by Claudia Siefen

Tom Mes: There is a world outside Japan too 

It is mostly tenderness that remains after reading this book on the director Takashi Miike. That might sound irritating if you connect him only with his famous film Audition, in which a lonely man’s search for love turns into a rampage of blood-lust. Tom Mes, co-founder of ¨Midnighteye-Visions of Japanese Cinema“ shows in a delightful unexited way how that comes.

Takashi Miike, born in 1960 started off as an assistant to director Shohei Imamura, he moved onto straight-to-video work, and now makes three or four films a year. Miike’s disregard for decency, combined with his free-ranging visual instinct, has almost single-handedly created a new vocabulary of, you can call it,  disgusting cinema. And at the same time manages it to bring that violence to an irritating tenderness. Mes wraps this in his unique writing style:

“…Ley Lines (1999) follows on from Shinjuku Triad Society (1995), expanding andimproving upon that film and its subject of rootless people who are only half part of Japanese society. It also precedes Dead or alive, which deals with largely the same subject and was made later the same year. However, Ley Lines is free from Dead or alive‘s cop versus gangster structure and therefor less compromised. It’s an alltogether purer film, one that is closer to its director, not in the least for its plot of young men leaving their impoverished countryside behind them to begin life on their own in the big city. This is something Miike himself did in his late teens, when he moved from the small town he grew up in to Japan’s second biggest city Yokohama, a move he has described as an escape…“.

Like Mes stated “I went into great detail in retelling the storylines of the films I was covering, not only because there is no other way to do close textual analysis, but also because I was convinced at the time that the vast majority of these films would never be seen and that their descriptions in Agitator would be the only record of their existence in any other language beside Japanese.” The 38 chapters are kept short, so it might happen to you after diving into one film the reading about has already ended and that sometimes keeps you a little unsatisfied. 

„… Am I just getting off on aestheticized violence, like Ichi leaving his semen on the balcony floor? Man is capable of creating beautiful works of art about ugly things. See Charles Beaudelaire. Beauty is not so much in „what“ is portrayed as in „how“. And never mind „why“. When it’s really good, what and how meld into one, and why is replaced by because. Like with Ichi The Killer, whose most important questions are never answered. The motivations that drive its narrative are never explained. Therefore the action in itself is all that matters. As Takashi Miike wrote in his diary about Asano bleaching his armpit hair for the role of Kakihara: ‘It’s meaningless beautiful. To wonder why is useless.’…“

So Mes’s sort of narrative history of Miike’s filmography  gestures at its philosophical dimensions, and is also interested in coupling the director’s biography with the wider aesthetic and japanese society contexts of that decades, too. His book is gripping, as he is dipping from time to time in self-forgotten sentences but never pedantic or even worst: embarrassing. The book’s expansive, full-coloured pages (a ballanced range of unique set photos and film stills by long-time Miike collaborator Christian Storms) and generous margins render that volume a world unto itself, while emphasising the issues Mes addresses in his tale. Re-Agitator gives the opportunity to add some context and background on the development of the Japanese film industry over the past twenty years and Miike’s career therein, something that was largely absent from Agitator in the year 2003. That makes Re-agitator a wonderful addition but also a great first step into Miike’s World, to the presentation of these so often brilliant, and sometimes overrated films of the Japanese director. His work nevertheless will remain as a feasibility study in terms of taboo.


“Re-Agitator – A Decade of Writing on Takashi Miike“ by Tom Mes.

FAB Press; 160 pages; illustrated in full colour; ISBN 978-1-903254-71-4