By Jake Howell firstname.lastname@example.org
Countdown to Cannes: Takashi Miike
Background: Japanese; born Yao, Osaka, Japan, 1960.
Known for / style: 13 Assassins (2010), Ichi the Killer (2001), Audition (1999); an eclectic promiscuity of genre play, including martial arts extravaganzas, family-friendly films, and crime dramas; excessive, cartoonish violence and sexual themes; releasing some titles directly-to-video.
Notable accolades: In his home country, the Japanese Professional Movie Awards have been kind to Miike, handing him five Best Director wins (1997’s Rainy Dog and Young Thugs: Innocent Blood, 2000’s The Guys from Paradise, 2001’s Visitor Q and Ichi the Killer), a Best Film nod (Ichi the Killer), and finally the title of Movie King of the 1990s in 2001. Outside of Japan, Miike snagged both a FIPRESCI prize and the KNF Award for Audition (the KNF Award, oddly, is given to “the best feature film that has yet to find distribution within the Netherlands”). In 2010, Venice gave a Future Film Festival Digital Award (Special Mention) to Miike’s 13 Assassins.
Previous Cannes appearances: Miike has played the Croisette twice: once in Competition (2011’s 3D Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) and once out of Competition (For Love’s Sake, 2012). Hara-Kiri was the first 3D film ever to screen in Competition.
Film he’s bringing to Cannes: Wara no Tate (Shield of Straw), a police thriller based on Kazuhiro Kiuchi’s best-selling novel of the same name. Takao Osawa (from Japanese TV show Jin) and Nanako Matsushima (I am Mita, Your Housekeeper) star as two cops tasked with escorting a convicted killer across Japan. Getting in the way are ruthless bounty hunters, eager to cash in on the head of the killer (played by Tatsuya Fujiwara, Death Note).
Could it win the Palme? While no director is truly exempt from winning the Palme d’Or, it would appear Miike’s latest thriller has the Japanese equivalent of “zilch” at taking home the prize. Cannes is not exactly known for awarding by-the-numbers action movies (2011’s Best Director-winning Drive resists genre conformity), and the film is released today in Japan—the latter point hurting Miike’s chances in the long run. The film may not be Miike’s best work: Time Out Tokyo gave the film two stars (out of five) on April 18, writing: Wara no Tate is “slick, empty, and rather dim.” If a local critic can’t get down with Miike’s latest, it ain’t looking good for the rest of us. The Japan Times review of the film is slightly sunnier (giving Miike three out of five stars), but that’s still less than stellar. If Miike has a friend on the jury, it’s director Naomi Kawase—a Japanese compatriot who may have a hell of a time convincing her fellow members that Wara no Tate is worth its weight in gold. Given her influences, though, that seems highly unlikely.
Why you should care: Miike releases so many films that it’s hard to get overly excited for a reportedly lesser entry. Still, Miike has produced at least one masterpiece in his prolific career (13 Assassins tops out at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes). Either way, with an explosive trailer and a strong cast, genre fans can look forward to a fun blitz through urban Japan. Wara no Tate could be just a good ol’ time at the movies, not the arthouse favorite that the Competition would ordinarily prize. And there’s nothing wrong with that.