Monday, June 8, 2009

Miike Double Feature: Detective Story (2007) and God's Puzzle (2008)

Hayato Ichihara and Mitsuki Tanimura in Takashi Miike's God's Puzzle (2008).

Two films by Takashi Miike that has recently been released with english subtitles that both feel like something he could have made ten years ago. Personally, I don't feel that Miike's new direction that fans sometimes complain about is all that different from what he used to do, he just has more money to do it now but that doesn't stop him from churning out a few v-cinema flicks now and then. It's also easy to see the connections between films like Crows Zero (2007) and Crows Zero II (2009) and earlier works like the two Young Thugs (1997-1998) films and The Way To Fight (1996) and the line of existential questions going through Izo (2004), Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006) and God's Puzzle (2008), although Izo is probably the film that started what some would call Miike's decline.

Miike has always been all over the map when it comes to genres, he's been doing dramas, comedies and just about every variation of a yakuza film imaginable, the genre he's probably most famous for among casual fans, horror, is one where he has worked the least, so seeing him make more family oriented films shouldn't come as a huge surprise. And at the same time as he's been making films like Zebraman (2004), The Great Yokai War (2005) and Yatterman (2009) he's made Waru (2006), Sun Scarred (2006), Like A Dragon (2007) and Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) among others. I feel as if Miike is just moving forward by expanding his line of work while at the same time he keeps in touch with his roots.

Strange looking characters in Miike's Detective Story (2007).

Detective Story is a straight-to-video (apparantely it did play a few theaters) gory horror/crime comedy about a former policeman now working as a detective, Raita Kazama, played by Kazuya Nakayama, who gets involved in the case of a woman being murdered the same night as she has visited his home to ask for his help. Naturally, the detetive becomes the suspect. To make matters worse different possessions of his starts to pop up at the murder sites as more bodies start piling up. The only other connection between between the victims is their interest in a mysterious artist named Yuki Aoyama who paints in blood and ground up meat. To his help, the detective has his two assistants and a newly moved in neighbor who shares his first name and who's a computer wiz who is reluctantly drawn into helping Raita No. 1 with the case.

The film turns into a bizarre crime mystery, mostly because of the mix of gore and weird sense of humor and the overacting by Nakayama in the lead. There just doesn't seem to be any other reason for his weird behaviour other than that he's a just a big kid inside who refuses to realize that he's grown up, which might explain his clothes. This is nothing new though for a Miike film produced by Hisao Maki, the man behind the Bodyguard Kiba (1994-1995) films, Silver (1999), Family (2001). As a product of a Miike-Maki collaboration, Detective Story still fares pretty well. Even though it's a bit too silly to be taken seriously as a crimethriller it is still fairly entertaining and Nakayama's odd performance is fun to watch. At least Maki settled for a tiny cameo as a police chief in this one instead of playing the hero's martial arts mentor and having a meaningless fight scene spliced into the middle of the film. It's hard to imagine that Maki also produced Miike's contemplative homoerotic prison drama Big Bang Love, Juvenile A.

Ryuhei Matsuda and Masanobu Ando in Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006).

God's Puzzle is a bigger film than Detective Story, produced by Haruki Kadokawa. The premise isn't really that complicated, Kiichi is about to graduate from university but decides to go on vacation, sending his delinquent twin brother, Motokazu, to physics class in his place since all he needs to graduate is the attendance and since all Motokazu has to do is sit there, it won't be a problem that he doesn't know the first thing about physics. Things get complicated when he actually shows up in class and a teacher asks him to encourage another student to come to class, isolated girl genius Saraka. She agrees on the condition that Motokazu helps her with a science project, to figure out what the nothingness that our universe was created out of consisted of and to try to create a new universe.

Now the english subtitles on the Malaysian dvd are pretty bad, so this is where things get shakey. The first half of the film is mostly physics talk about particles, energies and theories about how the universe was created and what would happen if man was actually able to create a universe. Would it create a black hole that would swallow our own universe? If man were able to create such things, would there be any need for a god and would scientifically proving that everything that is needed to create a universe and what is contained in the nothingness out of which our universe was born is right under our noses also prove that there is no god? But God's Puzzle also deals with the troubles of youth, growing up and finding out who you are and dealing with the unwanted expectations of others, things that are close to heart of Saraka who was concieved as a "manmade" test tube baby.

Although I enjoyed just about every minute of God's Puzzle, there are some weaknesses. Hayato Ichihara's Riki Takeuchi like mugging and screaming of every line does get a bit annoying sometimes and at 133 minutes it feels a bit overlong, with the disaster movie ending actually feeling more drawn out than the first part of the film, but it's all saved in one of the greatest moments in Miike film history. In spirit, acting and setting it was reminiscent of his early Osaka films but with a sci-fi twist.

While Detective Story shows that Miike, despite making big budget blockbusters now, is still not above getting knee-deep in blood and guts and v-cinema filmmaking, God's Puzzle proves that he also, while making bigger films, can bring together all the energies that made some of his early work so great.