Three Great Things: Takashi Miike

The prolific Japanese director celebrates the release of his new movie, First Love, by talking about what makes life better for him.

Three Great Things is our series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To celebrate the release of his latest directorial effort, the yakuza thriller First Love (in theaters from September 27), the prolific Japanese auteur Takashi Miike told us about some of the things that make life special for him. — N.D.

Film Sets
The film set to me is a place where – whether I am there as the director or assistant director – I feel like I can really be a different version of myself, because the real me is actually very cowardly and lazy. It sounds bad to say that out loud – “I’m a cowardly, lazy person” – but regardless, on a film set there are things I have got to do. When I’m filming, I get to be the me I like the most and get all those things done, and am happy doing them.

I never really feel like I have a meaningful way to spend my time off, so I prefer to avoid it altogether. People will ask me, “When do you rest?” or “When do you take time off?” but I feel like every time I take time off work or try to rest, I end up regretting it because I don’t get anything done all day. I don’t think I’ve ever been productive – or even tried to be – when I’m not making a film.

If I weren’t a film director, I might find the motivation to be as productive in another area. When I was a child, my father was a welder; he would do a lot of welding work and even work on a lot of Sundays. When my teachers asked at school, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” all the other kids would say, “I want to be a baseball player” or “I want to be an astronaut,” but I said, “I want to be a welder.” Even today, when I see a welder, I think, “That looks so cool.”

There are actually a lot of similarities between filmmaking and welding, because what you’re doing is taking two completely different things and fusing them together. As a welder, you’re taking two pieces of metal and welding those together, and with filmmaking, it’s two scenes. In welding, you fuse them together with this extreme heat – all this energy – and that’s the exact same thing with film; you need heat and energy and passion to put those things together.

First Love

The Raw Power of a V8 Engine
I really love the experience of being in a car with a really powerful V8 engine and you step on the accelerator and all of that energy instantly propels you and the car forward with this incredible amount of momentum.

I’ve always liked pretty much anything with an engine, and was really into motorcycles when I was younger. In fact, I wanted to be a motorcycle racer. But when I went to some motorcycle races, I realized very quickly that I didn’t have the skill to be a professional motorcycle racer, and also that it was very dangerous.

There’s a film called Vanishing Point I saw as a child and the sound of the car engine in it was a symbol of raw power. That kind of raw power and acceleration can’t be expressed with words, so it was something I thought was really, really cool when I was a child, and still do now.

When I first saw Vanishing Point, I don’t remember ever wanting to be a filmmaker at all, or having been influenced by films in that way. For me, it was purely for entertainment. I loved watching the characters and seeing the cars and hearing the engine sounds, but I wasn’t interested in being an actor or a director. It was really by chance when I became an assistant director that someone said, “Why don’t you be the director? You could direct this!” I thought, “Me?!” That was the first time I thought I could try directing.

The fact that I didn’t dream of being a director for years may be one of the secrets behind me being able to make so many films. If I were more serious about it, I would probably be more uptight about what my films look like or how they turn out, and I would be nervous and end up taking more time to do everything. But since I just say, “No, let’s get it done,” I can make a lot of films.

Shun Oguri in Takashi Miike’s Crows Zero. (Cold beer not shown.)

Cigarettes and Cold Beer
I love the sensation of being able to drink a cold beer and light up a cigarette at the same time. Right now, though, it’s difficult to do that because in Japan the places you can smoke and the places you can drink are different, so you have to drink a cold beer and then run outside and light a cigarette. Still, that first puff on a cigarette after you’ve had a cold beer gives me a special kind of pleasure.

When I was a child, my father and my grandfather really liked to drink. One time when I was really young, I was sitting on my dad’s lap and saw him drinking a cold beer. He seemed so refreshed and I thought, “Wow, it looks like he’s really enjoying that.” I remember that sensation and wondering what it tasted like, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to drink alcohol because I was still a child. But I thought, “If I just sip some of the foam, then I can kind of taste what it’s like,” so one time I tried the foam on top and thought, “Ew, what is this?!” But I also thought, “I did it. I’m proud of that. I’m a big boy now.” I grinned and bore it and thought, “I’m becoming a man.” The memory of that moment, and the memory of my father and grandfather, probably contributes to my enjoyment of beer.

The first time I drank a cold beer and lit up a cigarette at the same time was probably when I was a teenager. You don’t know what it tastes like, but you see these adults drinking it and you think, “Oh yeah, I wanna do that, I wanna be like that person.” That was important to me, because I looked up to the adults. I don’t know if I had that many choices or dreams laid out in front of me, but I thought, “Someday, I could be a man,” and that motivated me and was an important part of my development.

Takashi Miike’s latest film, the gonzo yakuza thriller First Love, is in theaters from September 27 through Well Go USA. Miike’s first films were made direct-to-video in the V-cinema system, which was a way for Japanese studios to develop young filmmakers without using big budgets. A fierce filmmaker, Miike immediately became known for his energetic style and began to explore new genres and accelerate his output. He has since directed more than 100 features between the late ’90s and 2019. In his work, Miike can be seen perverting the Yakusa Eiga (mafia genre), as well as the burlesque comedy (Yatterman), the intimate drama (Visitor Q), the Western (Sukiyaki Western Django), the horror film (One Missed Call), the manga adaptation (Crows Zero 1 and 2, Ichi The Killer, Terra Formars), Tokusatsu Japanese-style super hero movies (Zebraman) and the action genre (Dead or Alive 1, 2, 3). Miike expresses the “do it yourself” attitude of punk culture in his films. After being saluted by Quentin Tarantino, his 2000 film Audition became critically acclaimed in the West.