Interview: Takashi Miike on Yattermanby Justin Sevakis, Feb 9th 2009
Takashi Miike is best known in the West for his extreme films like Audition and Ichi the Killer. However, recently he's gone more mainstream, directing action films like Sukiyaki Western Django, family fare like Zebraman, and finally his newest film, the live action adaptation of the classic Tatsunoko anime Yatterman. The day before its world premiere at New York Comic Con in New York City, Miike took a few minutes to sit down with Anime News Network to answer some questions about his new film and its place in his very long filmmaking career.
To begin, if you could tell us a bit about Yatterman - we know it's very famous in Japan, but American fans don't really know a lot about it, so what can you tell us about the whole legend of Yatterman?
In America, you have projects like Speed Racer. That was made into a feature film earlier. An updated Hollywood production. Yatterman was made by the same production company, Tatsunoko. It was on TV about 30 years ago - it was an animated project, not a comic. We watched that when we were kids, and much like Speed Racer, those kids became adults, and now we are in a position where we can make a film version. That's how the concept of the Yatterman film was born.
Currently, there's a new Yatterman anime series out. Since it's a new production, it's aimed at kids today. That anime is currently broadcasting on TV.
Now, you watched it growing up. Did it have a big effect on you? How influental was it, if at all?
Actually, when I saw it I was eighteen! So I wasn't actually the "target" audience. Still, it appealed to me and I watched it from time to time. The good thing about Yatterman is that when I was watching it, I could forget about homework, problems with friends…you know those things you worry about when you're a kid? I could just forget all of that for thirty minutes. That's the kind of entertainment it was.
It was also a little perverted. That was the first time a TV anime was able to show breasts - like something would explode and you'd see nudity. The sort of stuff your mother and father told you not to do at school… in the anime - the stuff you really want to do, but actually can't - that happens in the anime. It was a little stimulating in that way. The anime featured the stuff your parents didn't want you to see.
Lots of comics and anime have been made into movies before, both in Japan and the United States. Were there other films you drew inspiration from when you adapted this one?
Adapting an anime into live action is… how should I put this... never easy. It can feel like if you don't do things a certain way, you'll ruin the character. We wanted to respect the original without worrying about the little technicalities. The goal was to enjoy making it. We didn't say, "Let's do a Yatterman film this way," we decided to make the film as if it were just another episode of the anime. In that way, I think we did things differently than the typical anime-inspired film. I think making a "live-action" version of an anime is one genre, but to have a film create a new story inspired by the original - that to me is like a different genre.
Yatterman, from what little I've seen in the trailer, has a lot of special effects. You're a director that got famous for working quickly and efficiently. Was this project a significant adjustment from your standard operating procedure?
There are lots of effects, but… Usually you have a special director or specialist handle effects. That team is usually separate. But for this production, we worked as one staff, and there wasn't a special director in place. Of course, there were CG specialists on the staff too, but I directed everything. If you do things that way, moving the acting talent and designing CG is still different, but it's all part of making the same film. So there wasn't anything that was specifically troublesome.
It was time consuming though. After filming finished, we spent half a year making and adding the CG elements. In that case, you aren't moving actors around a real set, you're working with things in an unrecognizable "computer" world. So it's best if I work as the director for those scenes as well. That way the two parts don't conflict with each other, and I actually like directing those parts too.
Tomorrow night is the big world premiere. Do you still get nervous with premieres like this?
Of course. However, at that point, I've already made the film. The first film festival I went to was very good. To meet people for the first time, especially this time, in a country where people don't know about Yatterman. To be among the attendees and watch the film I made… it's a very satisfying feeling. Among those people, I think watching this film has been the most interesting experience of all. All that depends on the reaction of the viewers of course. But since I'm among the viewers as a guest and not an "enemy," I think they go easy on me.
So you're the type that stays and watches the movie with them?
As a director, I'm experiencing the film with people from a different culture. In Japan, I can't do that. That is really special. When watching with that kind of audience, The reactions of people are completely different. It's a lot of fun. So people can't leave their seats in the middle, I'd like it if I could put some superglue on the seats. So come to the film in a cheap suit!
Now most Americans actually know you more for films like Audition and Ichi the Killer… these days, your films are a lot more mainstream, bigger budget, and you make fewer of them in a year. Have you changed as a director, or do you still feel like the same guy who could just as easily go back and make a low budget Yakuza movie where heads explode or something?
I don't think I've changed at all. A lot of what I've been doing lately has been stressful, even for me. However, what I was able to do with a low budget I think I can still do the same things with a big budget. I haven't been striving for a big budget project by doing low budget films.
What I have been able to do is work with a bunch of people in different situations. It's expanded my horizons, and now I feel like I'm able to do the things I would like to do in a different environment. Even in the world of low budget films, I never felt like I had total freedom. No matter how big the budget for a film is, I like working in an atmosphere where you can do what you like. With Yatterman, there are a lot of moments where you wonder, "Is this really okay?" The stimulating moments from the original are possible with the budget, so the process was fun.
Looking back on your really long list of films that you've made, they are very disparate - they are all over the place as far as theme and content goes. Are there any that stand out to you as particularly memorable?
For me, among genres - there are the historical films and yakuza films, and between those, the era and the situations differ. You're presenting different themes. So what you can express in those situations is different. "What do we want to become?" "What is happiness?" "Who am I?" For example, If the film were a love story, those points would be examined through falling in love.
For me, I don't view things as a theme or point that's written on paper. There are a lot of different elements. Things you can't see, but they are still important. All of that differs based on the genre you're working with. With Yatterman, the theme that's there is the dreams you had as a child - worries about love and such - and the gap between that and reality is a theme. I think regardless of the film, you're always trying to express that same sentiment.