Prolific Director Takashi Miike Adapts Manga Epic Blade of the Immortal

Few filmmakers in Hollywood or abroad have proven to be both as prolific and accomplished as Japan’s Takashi Miike, whose 100th film Blade of the Immortal marks another high point in his diverse 26-year career.

Adapted from Hiroaki Samura’s long-running manga of the same name (known to American fans for the translated version published by Dark Horse Comics), the film features the undying samurai Manji, cursed to an unwelcome longevity. Miike’s film captures the uneasy spirit of the source material as Manji (Takuya Kimura) helps a young girl named Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) attempt to avenge the murder of her dojo-master father at the hands of an unprincipled warrior -- and it channels the manga’s anarchic action sequences, highlighted by its signature baroque, elaborately designed weaponry.

An established a master of many disparate film genres -- including horror, comedy, romance crime, thriller, fantasy, musical -- Miike brings an ability to mix and match cinematic styles with an distinctive originality to Blade of the Immortal, the kind of fresh eye, edgy exploration, pop sensibility and assured execution that’s earned him a devoted cult following around the world.

Visiting Los Angeles during the film’s release, Miike joined CBR for a revealing conversation about his unique take on the samurai manga material and his potential Hollywood aspirations. [Note: This interview was conducted with a translator.]

Director Takashi Miike on the Blade of the Immortal set.

CBR: Let’s start with the source material. What did you see in the original manga that you knew you could have a lot of fun with, cinematically?

Takashi Miike: Honestly, I think that there’s some overlap. There is some overlap between the way the manga is represented and the way that the movie is portrayed. But I also feel like they’re very separate in many ways. So the manga, I feel like people might see the movie and if they want to know more, they go read the manga. Those are what really caught my attention, and I wanted to have fun with those.

And in order to get those in the movie, using the character of Manji was absolutely instrumental. So when I say some of those things that are very, very quintessential manga elements -- for example, the idea that beautiful things break. That you have, on one side, this tragedy and sadness, and on this other you have this beauty and this joy. They’re only a flip of a coin away from each other. They’re really two sides of the same coin. Those things are represented in manga, they’re portrayed in manga, using momentary elements.

You can have a moment in a manga that’s difficult to reproduce in a film. So what I wanted to do is take some of those things and do the things that I could do well in a film, and keep those things in the film. And the things I couldn’t do well in the film, leave those in the manga, and then people can go back if they want to.

In this film, what did you find played to your strengths as a filmmaker as far as themes, style, and technique, and what was completely fresh territory that was exciting to explore?

Honestly, for me, I don’t have this awareness or this conscious intent to try to make something completely new, personally. When I say that, personally, as a person, I will maybe dream about being able to do something completely different, and something that I have absolutely never done before. I will literally dream about those things at night. But in reality, it’s different. I can only use the skills that I actually have.

I also have to make something that feels very real. But you do have these new things, these elements, that will affect that. For example, you’re working on something, and of course the original work also, the original manga, or whatever it is that is the basis for the movie adaptation, will also impact or influence me. Then you have your staff, and then you have CGI technology and things like that. You stumble on these things, they lead you to changes to the way that you work, or the way that you’re planning to do things.

I don’t see those as changes though. I really see those elements as they have this strange power. It’s almost like a miracle that I stumble on, that lead things in a new direction. So it’s not that I intentionally want to go in a new direction, but I will definitely stumble upon those miraculous things. I can’t be searching for those miracles. I really have to just kind of wait for them to happen. I’m not really looking for novelty ever. It just kind of comes about as part of process.

Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) in Blade of the Immortal.

In terms of being a filmmaker who’s worked in a multitude of genres, what is it about this particular genre that really excited and engaged you, and how did you hope to express that on film?

It’s very interesting. One thing that I felt very strongly with this is that there’s so many coincidences that all just come together miraculously to make this happen. I don’t feel as much that I am creating the film, as I feel that the film is being created, or the film is almost making me.

When I say that, to be working a film, it’s a very beautiful medium to work in because we have the nature of time -- the passage of time, and how it goes on. It’s a very beautiful thing, but it’s also a very cruel thing.

To that end, the actress who played Rin in this, when this was filmed, she had this perfect personality for the role that she was playing. As time went on, actually, shortly after we got done with the film, she grew a lot as a person. She changed a lot. She was perfect for this film at that time. If we had made this a little bit later, we could not have made this film this way. I almost feel like, it’s not like she was born for the purpose of being in this film, but I also appreciated the fact that she just happened to out of coincidence exist at just the time that we needed her.

So it’s this very serendipitous thing, right? And she has the same look. Shortly after, she still looked the same. But we couldn’t have filmed it because, honestly, if we had filmed it later with the changes in her personality, the way that she grew up, she would have had to act more. Honestly, the way that she is on the film shows more of her natural personality and her characteristics. So she didn’t have to go out of her way to do any acting at all.

Then to give another example of this, there is [Miike’s 2001 musical/comedy/horror film] The Happiness of the Katakuris that we showed yesterday. I watched that, and a lot of those actors now, I think, “Wow, they look so young there!” Many of those actors, some of those actors, have now passed away and are now gone. So I think, yes, time is cruel, but time is also beautiful. It’s very difficult to be an actor, but it’s also beautiful to be immortalized in film in that way.

Given how much appreciation your films have gotten in the West, what, at this moment in time, is your interest level in making a Hollywood production?

In the sense that I haven’t ever done something like that, yes, absolutely. That’s something that interests me. It’s not something that I would actively pursue from my perspective. Part of the reason is because the system is very different. I think we’d have to have some attorneys, more attorneys, and have them draw up contracts. Instead of just getting together and saying, “OK, OK, I’m going to talk to these actors, everyone else who’s involved directly on the film, and we’re just going to do this thing.” It’s more like the attorneys get together, and they talk to each other, and they work out the details, instead of us working out the details.

Then I also feel like it’s something that would be time-consuming. It would take some time to do it. Instead of me saying, “OK, this is the way I am, and this is how much time I have to dedicate to this,” it’s almost like it would definitely require an investment of a specific chunk of time that I’d have to put into that and commit to that to do it well. And that’s something that, honestly, it’s difficult for that to fit the way that I work, personally.

So it’s something that, absolutely, since I haven’t done it, I want to try new stuff. So absolutely, but it’s not something that I actively am pursuing myself.

Blade of the Immortal is in select theaters now.

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