Japanese director Takashi Miike is a household name for fans of “fantasy” cinema.
Over the past 30 years, he’s delivered films in a dizzying array of genres, from horror to Ichi the killer and A missed call to quirky musicals The Happiness of the Katakuris and For the love of love to gangster action thrillers Dead or alive and Yakuza Apocalypse.
He’s also no stranger to the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (Bifan, July 7-17), having attended the event in South Korea on several occasions over the years.
“It always strikes me as a festival hosted and visited by people who really love cinema,” says Miike. “Especially the weird movies.”
A testament to the director’s tireless pace (he’s made more than 100 feature films since 1991), the festival features two Miike features released in Japan last year.
The first is The Great Yokai War: Guardiansa sequel to his 2005 feature film The Great Yokai War. Both films are set in the realm of Japanese folklore creatures known as yokai.
“The Yokai are a unique Japanese myth,” explains the filmmaker. “They’re not quite monsters, not quite ghosts. They suddenly appeared out of nature, but are also shaped by human perception. No matter what era we are in, yokai are always there with us. I feel less like I decided to make another yokai movie, and more like yokai wants us humans to do it.
Miike explains that he was also touched by the film’s environmental themes. “In a place like Tokyo, the yokai don’t have a place to live anymore,” he says. “When yokai disappear, it means humans have lost touch with nature, and it means we’re screwed.”
The film centers on two young brothers, played by Kokoro Terada and Rei Inomata, now aged 14 and 9 respectively. Working with child actors, Miike explains, “I’m not the kind of director who talks to kids from my adult point of view, I’m the kind that tends to revert to childlike wonder. In this sense, child actors are my best allies on set.
The filmmaker adds that it is important for him to keep this childish spirit, whatever the film he makes.
“Marketing teams these days like you to be clear about the audience you’re targeting: this movie is for kids, this is for adults, etc. I understand that from a business perspective, but I try not to let it rule what I do,” he says.
“After all, from the point of view of yokai, who have lived for hundreds of years, there is no great difference between human children and adults.”
Miike’s second film to be shown at Bifan is The Mole’s Song: Finalethe third and supposedly final in a crime comedy trilogy about a mole who infiltrates the yakuza and whose over-the-top antics are reminiscent of the naked gun series.
With Final being the cornerstone of mole song trilogy, did the director feel compelled to make these antics even bigger than the previous two films?
“I sometimes think to myself, ‘I have to make sure it’s fresh,'” he says. “But I didn’t want to add anything that felt like it didn’t belong in the movie. Audiences can tell when you do that.
“At the same time, the cast and crew have all grown over the years, so even if they haven’t, you should be able to feel a change,” he adds with a laugh.
Any connection between an all-ages adventure movie about yokai and an adult comedy about police and gangsters might not be immediately obvious, but Miike points out that both have to do with the concept of justice. .
“Why are humans so obsessed with the idea of justice? ” he asks. “The fact that this question pops up in so many movies probably means it’s something we’ll never really get to. We understand this, but at the same time, we continue to strive for a fairer world. It’s about the process, not the result.
Coming from a director who is almost always making one movie or another, it’s a feeling that makes a lot of sense.