Anarchic Cinema: Miike and V-Cinema

Lars Von Trier

During the period in which Dogme was beginning to interest audiences and No Wave was dying out was also the birth of a unique film market in Japan, V-Cinema. These are primarily movies made in Japan that are released directly to video. When distributing anime, the moniker Original Video Animation or OVA is used. The industry has been alive since the 1980s, sporting filmmakers such as Takashi Shimizu, director of The Grudge and the criminally overlooked Marebito. Now, when the end products comes from an established industry, how does it tie in with such avant-garde movements as Warhol, Transgressive and Dogme?

Unlike the VHS boom in the United States and subsequently Europe in the 1980s, which was primarily populated at first by pornography and Z-Grade shlock video-cinema from directors such as Mark Pirro and Andreas Schnaas, V-Cinema affords creative freedom, less stringent censorship, and the ability to publish riskier content to filmmakers. Though initially this gave birth to films such as the Guinea Pig series that mimicked the No Wave shock films and notorious exploitation films (like Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave and Roger Watkins’ The Last House on Dead End Street), it wasn’t really till the emergence of probably its most popular filmmaker in the West, Takashi Miike that the idea of anarchy in cinema came from an entirely new direction.

Warhol Film was relaxed passive nihilism. Transgressive Cinema was undeterred aggressive nihilism. Dogme 95 was overly structured naturalistic nihilism. Miike took it in another direction, industrial nihilism. He is of the belief that directing and creating films as a whole is not an art form. It is not something that should be appreciated more than any other job. That is what he brought to the table; the belief in that the artistic expression that had been so vibrant in most film movements up till that point was invalid and that filmmaking was no different than any other 9-to-5.

Personally, this is a highly conflicted stance on filmmaking. Though Miike is clearly one of the most prominent and talented filmmakers from Japan still working today (his most recent film Blade of the Immortal will be released next month), his philosophy on the craft of making films goes beyond what any other filmmaker has propagated before. He directs at least two films a year and sometimes as many as eight, and maintains the same quality of work and attention to detail as any auteur from New Wave and New Hollywood. However, does this really further explore anarchy?

Yes.

Anarchy, to reiterate and paraphrase is the absence of rulers and the focus is on individualized self-governance. In cinema this can take the form of projected nihilism on screen, thus reaching the intent of the filmmaker to affect the audience by that stance. This takes the same idea, but rather than being a cinematic device used to express thought, dissent or just to explore the medium, it is adherent to the artist themselves. Dogme tried to express this with the forbidding of directorial credit, but many filmmakers either bent or would break this rule quite liberally during the movement’s existence. This is due to the attitude really embraced in the beginnings of the 20th century that the artist was more of the focus rather than the art. Many people have heard of Jackson Pollack or Andy Warhol, but actually having seen the full collection of their known work is not something that many more pursue. It is because the people were being promoted than the art they produced.

In the latter half of the 20th Century, it became much more the age of the critic, where critical interpretation and endorsement from an alternative community that had access to publishing and syndication became crucial for a film to survive and/or make money. So though the work was more heavily scrutinized, as well as artists’ ability to express emotional connectivity with their audiences and their as technical expertise.

Miike introduces an element that goes beyond a basic anti-critic attitude that you may hear throughout indie rock, punk rock and rap, as well from filmmakers such as von Trier (recollecting his Melancholia Cannes press incident). Miike is someone who actually takes an apparent stance as anti-artistic when approaching all aspects of filmmaking, including the critical community. This is industrial nihilism. Where the entirety of filmmaking, from concept, to production, to distribution and all those people and companies who aid the process, is equivalent to working the 9-to-5 grind. This attitude is very hard to interpret because many people have this attitude when approaching filmmaking, and mostly from those who make lazy films.

Lazy films are movies made only to cash in; and in the most honest of perspectives, lazy films are the hallmark of truly bad artists. It is quite true that art is in the eye of the beholder; art is so subjective that opinions fly all over the spectrum. There are plenty of films, paintings, novels that people love and consider completely genuine and strong art that others’ personal tastes may differ. On the other hand, lazy artists are truly those who are involved in art because the have no other place to belong. And this is not to say that they are antisocial people, or renegades and mavericks that we cannot classify them as one thing or the other; they have not been able to identify themselves. This is not Miike’s stance, though he has said that he originally had not sought a career in filmmaking, wanting to race motorbikes.

The difference between lazy filmmakers who really are either lapsed artists or those without much other place to go, and Miike is that Miike possesses the drive, talent and intelligence to be on the equivalent of great Japanese cinematic masters such as Yasujirō Ozu and Tetsuya Nakashima. However, his personal ideas on cinema express the very central idea of artistic anarchy in film, that there are no rules or rulers. Though personal prejudices consider filmmaking one of the most elaborate and collaborative artistic experiences anyone can be part (whether a maker or a spectator), Miike embraces artistic anarchy to the absolute extreme.

To explain, the movements discussed already were fundamentally exploring moral nihilism on screen, whereas Miike crosses the threshold and embraces a form of existential nihilism in cinema, turning the perspective on the actual act of making films. It is true that filmmakers from John Ford to Michael Bay detest analysis, and seek to make entertainment-driven works more than message or meaning-driven stories. This is absolutely fine, as film is a highly subjective art. This attitude made it possible for the diminishment of prejudices Miike had for directing, so the range of his work ranges from V-Cinema action and horror films to big-budget mainstream successes such as the horror film One Missed Call and the children’s fantasy film The Great Yokai War. This is complete de-restriction of the mind when approaching filmmaking. Where Dogme 95 attempted extreme control over the production aspects and Transgressive Cinema was all about chaotic expression in final product and production, they were never able to fully embrace anarchic artistry personally.

Now, has Miike done this? Yes and no. As stated, he has taken a stance towards filmmaking with the skills and clout to back it up, however, he is not able to take the same aspects the he has embraced personally and apply them to screen. None of the work Miike has done could really be called expressively or artistically nihilistic (thus part-anarchic in nature), especially compared to Dogme films such as Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy or Richard Kern’s transgressive feature Fingered. This then demonstrated a very crucial point to understanding in expressing anarchy rather than simply not caring what is put on film and in what way, because lazy filmmakers are not necessarily anarchic filmmakers.

Transgressive Cinema, Dogme 95, Takashi Miike and V-Cinema all are elements that construct the overall concept of Anarchic Cinema, however there is one final primary influence that comes from the world of literature, that without there could not exist an idea of artistic anarchy in modern cinema: William S. Burroughs and the Beat Poets.

Written by Matthew Roe. Published: March 9, 2017

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