Japanese auteur Takashi Miike has been making movies for years, but his 13 Assassins seems like a new chapter in his long and varied career. Miike is probably best known as a cult figure, having directed Audition (which is one of the greatest horror movies of all time), and gross-out classics like Visitor Q and Ichi the Killer. 13 Assassins has him making a classic samurai tale of 13 men who must stop a warlord and his 200 flunkies. Check out our interview…
This was based on an Eiichi Kudo film, were you a fan of his work?
Takashi Miike: As for director Kudo, I had worked with him once on a television series as an assistant director, so I knew who he was and how much of an independent individual – what a great character he was, but as for the original 13 Assassins, it’s such an old work, and for people under the age of sixty, they don’t really know it. The movie came out when I was three years old, but it’s always been a popular title.
The problem for Americans is we know Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Lone Wolf and Cub. This is a more stately film, more in line with those films than some of your earlier works. Were you influence by some of the Japanese masters while making this?
TM: Obviously I was influenced – you can’t help but be influenced by these kinds of movies – but not directly in any attempt to reference any of those. I saw Kurosawa’s and Yasujirô Ozu’s films again when they were released again on Blu-ray. But I think the proper way to make movies is not to reference movies when you’re making them. The same way you make a movie is the same way you watch a movie, you’re a part of the audience, so if you don’t enjoy the movie while you’re making it the audience won’t enjoy it as well. And you need to be excited about the movie while you make it – so excited that you let things flow, which means letting whatever’s influenced you up to that point come in. But it’s not a direct attempt to reference something.
One of the most fun elements of making a movie called 13 Assassins has to be planning how many assassins are in the same frame at the same time – one of my favorite moments is when you finally show all thirteen in the widescreen frame because it tells you cinematically that it’s about to go down – what sort of effort do you put into how you frame your men?
TM: Here in Japan it’s a little different. In the US you’ve got a cameraman who does more of the framing, and in Japan the director has more control over the framing and the editing. I mean, I have an editor, but I tell him where to cut, and how the edit is done. I tell the cameraman what kind of shot and frame. And I guess I have that freedom from working on low budget movies like Audition or Visitor Q, where you have to go fast. And I have a lot of freedom and confidence from their success, and I used that confidence for this movie.
With a film like this you’re building to the third act, when it’s all about the big fight. How much fun is that? Does it make you nervous about having to deliver?
TM: Overall, the biggest pressure would be if director Eiichi Kudo were alive today if he were to enjoy the movie that we made. The fun of it for all of us is making a film that we don’t know we can make – to make a current Samurai movie, which the industry doesn’t make any more and a chance for the actors and everyone to run wild and crazy and in the end explode. Not just the actors but all of us, everyone on set. That’s an experience you rarely get in filmmaking, and I think for the young actors – working with the Samurai coach – were completely affected by that, and I think it will change their lives as well. So for all of us, we give our kudos to Kudo for giving us this movie fifty years ago, and it’s a strong appreciation, the chance to make this movie.
This feels like the largest scale movie you’ve made.
TM: Actually Yatterman (2009) was more expensive. Obviously this is one of my bigger budget movies, though, but compared to an American movie, it’s a fraction.
I ask because one of the things I’ve loved about your career is that you go from small budgets to larger ones, is that still your approach? This year you appear to have three movies due out, but some years you’ve had more. In America, it’s hard to be so diverse
TM: Of course my intention is to make small movies as well. For me the size of the budget is not the goal, it’s the freedom to create something that I’m after. If it’s a smaller budget I can feel a greater sense of happiness and freedom, and even if there isn’t that much time or money or freedom, it still teaches me a lot, and it still helps me grow. The ideal is for every work I do to give me a sense of freedom.
Can you talk about finally working with Kôji Yakusho, is he someone you’d wanted to work with for a while, how did this come about?
TM: We had made several offers before to work with him, and I’ve met him a number of times because he was a common actor in Shohei Imamura’s movies – who I worked under – and we always talked about making a movie together, and this was the first time, and he exceeded my expectations. As a director he makes my job easier because he has such a great sense acting and passion for the role.
For a number of American actors, it’s always considered playtime when they get to shoot guns, is it the same in Japan with samurai swords, does it unleash your inner child?
TM: Yeah, as a kid you could be given a sword as a present, but not so much these days. I think we’ve lost that sense of play, which makes me feel lonely, a very big part of Japanese culture is samurai swords, so I hope 13 Assassins can influence younger kids to want to go back that sense of play. But for me my weapon of choice is nunchuks. As a Bruce Lee fan.
13 Assassins hits theaters April 29, and is on VOD now. Check it out.