Box (a segment from Three Extremes directed by Takashi Miike)
Anyone who recognizes his name certainly can’t be blamed for saying “Uh-oh” when they read “A Takashi Miike Film.” Miike is a Japanese director who works very quickly, finishing three or four features a year. Even though he works with different genres and in wildly different styles, there’s always a sense of menace to his films. He’s perhaps best known for Ichi The Killer and Audition, films that, all hyperbole aside, feature some of the most graphic and disturbing depictions of torture and mutilation ever caught on film. Any trepidation on the part of the viewer is certainly understandable.
His short Box is the third part of an anthology film Three Extremes, which includes work by three of Asia’s leading genre directors, the other two being Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan and Korea’s Chan-wook Park. Part of why I like Box so much is that I hated the other two Extremes – context is everything. Chan’s section features a hazy, soft focus style that recalls soap operas and tampon commercials and his story was about a food that keeps you eternally young: dumplings made out of human babies. When the main character discovers the food’s secret ingredient, she continues her diet of baby dumplings because, you know, women are so vain. Park’s film is an exercise in offense in both form and content. It’s about an extra taking revenge on a film director by forcing him to make a heinous choice: if the director doesn’t kill an innocent child, then the extra will kill the director’s wife. An ugly story done in an in-your-face style I hate, one that uses showy but pointless camera moves and a self-consciously cartoony set design. But Miike’s film hooked me as soon as I saw its quiet opening shot of a bare tree in a winter field that’s blue with cold.
I have the movie playing on the other half of the computer screen right now but the images are too distracting; it’s taking me twice as long to write this as it should. It has the easy prettiness of a music video – with a different soundtrack it could be a Smashing Pumpkins video. However, unlike music videos, the pace is slow, contemplative. The lingering shots mimic the magician’s obsession with the one girl but also draw the viewer into this world and its mysteries. The cold of the city that contrasts with the warm reds and oranges in the circus tent. The silence during scenes of horror versus the overamplified roar of fire and crinkling of a plastic sheet.
Hypnotized by its beauty, but the story also interests me. Box is, along with The Wizard of Oz and Mulholland Drive, one of the few films in which the “oh it was all a dream” ending doesn’t feel like a cheat or a cop out, but is instead a clue to the psychology of the main character. The question is: what is the dream and what is the reality? The obvious answer is that most of what we have seen (the circus act, the tragic death, the magician’s revenge) is the dream of one half of a pair of Siamese twins which reveals her desire for independence mixed with guilt for wanting to be free of her sister.
But the film ends with the magician walking away from the field where the girl has been buried alive, which creates another interpretation: most of what we have seen is real, and the sequence with Siamese twins is a brief fantasy occurring right before death, and an acknowledgement that she will never be free of her sister.
My apologies to those with kids. I meant to include a warning with this month's dvd that it was not appropriate for young children but forgot. Again, my apologies and I promise to include such warnings from now on.
Tomorrow: a discussion of the West half of the disc.