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Interview: Takashi Miike on Yakuza Apocalypse

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Receiving its North American premiere during TIFF’s Midnight Madness programme, Yakuza Apocalypse is the latest film from Japanese genre icon Takashi Miike. Known around the world for such insane and violent titles as Ichi the KillerAudition, and 13 Assassins, Miike’s new film is a return to the more unhinged work he became famous for in the early days of his career. Juxtaposing elements of the crime genre with horror, it tells the story of yakuza lackey Kagemaya (Hayato Ichihara) who is turned into a vampire by his boss following a violent confrontation. As he begins to learn how to use his newfound abilities, Kagemaya rounds up a ragtag crew of misfits, also inhibiting monstrous tendencies, to avenge his fallen leader.

We spoke to Takashi Miike about his experiences making the film, and what exactly drew him to the project. (English-Japanese translation provided by Momo Podolsky.)

Scene Creek: What attracted you most to combining the gangster and vampire subgenres?

Takashi Miike: Yakuza and vampires are two different things, but when you buy an ice cream, you want to be greedy and have two flavors together, like vanilla and chocolate swirled together. By having the two together you get a completely different thing. The goodness of the chocolate is enhanced by being combined the vanilla, and becomes different. For me, combining the yakuza genre and vampire genre brought about the attractiveness of the categories even more. It was a very natural process – I just got a bit greedy.

SC: What was the creative process like, especially collaborating with your former pupil, Yoshitaka Yamaguchi?

TM: First of all, I want to say that I’ve known Yamaguchi for a long time. He used to be my assistant, and he was introduced to me when he was just a student. I was told by someone that there was a young guy that really wanted to work with me on the set. That’s how he was introduced to me. So I said ‘OK, I’ll take you on as my assistant. Now he’s directed two of his own films, and graduated to the role of director. When the time came that i wanted to work with him, i asked him to write something for me. i think the movie is the result of an image of what kind of movie I would want to make from his perspective.

SC: Why did you decide to make another violent gangster epic, in the vein of Dead or Alive or Ichi the Killer, given that you also released The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji last year?

TM: The Mole Song is a little bit of a unique movie for me. It was supposed to be shown everywhere at once, in the whole of Japan, and there was a little bit more of a budget. The pressure was on me to make it a commercial success. In a way it was that kind of a movie. But on Yakuza Apocalypse I felt no pressure or responsibility, I could go all out – just enjoy making the movie. The whole staff on site had a good time making it. And then as a result somehow, Colin Geddes from TIFF discovered it and invited me, so you know, good things happen. It’s a movie that i really enjoyed making. I haven’t made this kind of a movie in a while. Now that I’ve been invited by TIFF, one of my goals have been realized.

SC: How was it working with Yayan Ruhain from The Raid films?

My first impression was he was amazing, really. It’s very difficult to find anybody like that in Japan nowadays, who has the authentic moves, and on top of that he’s a great guy. Really easy to work with, gave good feedback, he really did everything we asked him to do. What’s even more interesting was his interaction with Hayato Ichihara, who really didn’t want to lag behind. Doing fight scenes with Yayan brought out his strength, and an aspect of him we didn’t know was there. To witness that from a director’s point of view was a great experience.

SC: I’ve heard Yakuza Apocalypse be described as a response to the amount of action films derived from popular mangas. Given that your next film is an adaptation of the series Terra Formars, what are your thoughts on the recent trend in the Japanese marketplace?

For me, when I’m making a movie out of a manga, the person who wrote the manga is my first spectator. I have to respect him, he is the first person evaluating the product. I don’t want to disappoint him or have regrets in trusting me in making a movie out of his work. That really becomes a motivation to make my work better. There’s a growing trend in the industry for sure, but I’m personally not against it.

Yakuza Apocalypse premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 18th, during Midnight Madness at the Ryerson Theatre. Its final screening is on September 19th at the Scotiabank Theatre.