Japanese cult legend Takashi Miike is an impossible artist to pin down, having directed dozens of films in every conceivable genre, as well as sensations—such as Audition and 13 Assassins—that have propelled him to the rank of globally esteemed auteur. Promoting Blade of the Immortal, his ostensible 100th film (though such an accounting is difficult to precisely tabulate), Miike is reluctant to analyze his art, preferring to honor the purity of its unpretentious craftsmanship, offering an implicit lesson to aspiring artists who’re imprisoned by self-consciousness. Miike prizes energy on his sets, freeing his actors to tap rarely seen aspects of their personalities. Briefly speaking with Miike via a translator, we discussed his aversion to impersonally perfect battle scenes, and trust in the freedom of risk and discomfort.
Blade of the Immortal is being touted as your 100th film. Does your prolificacy free you intuitively as an artist?
Yes, I do enjoy a measure of freedom. However, that isn’t something that came with the 100th film. I’ve had that freedom from the very beginning. And the reason I say that is because success as a director was never my overarching goal. If I made something and people didn’t want it, well, I don’t care. I keep going and I make the next one. And that has freed me from the beginning.
Do you feel that the speediness of your productions informs the tone and tempo of your action sequences? The battle scenes in Blade of the Immortal are quite visceral and spontaneous-feeling.
I like to go for the absolute reality of an unrehearsed single take. If you were in a real battle, the actors would be extremely nervous and apprehensive. Battle wouldn’t look rehearsed to perfection. I’m not trying to get the coolest-looking action scene of all time. I’m trying to go for raw and real. And when you do that, the precision of your action scenes goes down a little bit. And if you want a battle scene done perfectly, you will probably have to rehearse for a week. But, for me, a perfectly choreographed action scene feels disingenuous. It looks amazing but does not feel real. I like to say that any given action scene can only happen once in the history of the world. These people have never met each other, they’ve never rehearsed together, okay, go!
Can you comment further on your general collaboration with actors? The performances in your films are often powerful.
I like to utilize the actors’ real-life frustrations as a tool. I don’t want to enclose or limit them to the constraints of their specific roles or even to the period setting. I prefer an actor who’s high-energy and compelling to one who’s really good at following the instructions of the director. In fact, I say to the actors: “Everything you feel that has been repressed in every other film you’ve ever been in, let it out—let it all come out. Let’s use that as a way to get the energy, the emotion, and the action in this role.”
Is over-planning, or an excess of precision, at odds with your art?
I do plan, but I don’t take the plan as the absolute goal of the process. There are always changes in people and circumstances. It’s good to be flexible and go with whatever contingencies come up and find ways to adapt.