Thursday, 18 January 2007

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (46億年の恋) (2006)

Your moment of extremely offbeat humour, courtesy of Miike.

There’s something about Takashi Miike. It’s not about being prolific (the man directed 14 films between 2001 and 2002) or being shocking (a Takashi Miike film isn’t really complete without some element of sexual perversions, blood-soaked violence, and far-out surrealism) – it’s that every film the director makes is completely different from anything you’ve seen from him before this, that you’ll never know what to expect when you watch a new film from Miike. He’s done children’s movies (Zebraman), horror musical comedies (The Happiness of the Katakuris), gross-out gangster films (Ichi the Killer), and even the odd surreal yakuza road movie involving talking cow heads and gender-switching gangsters (Gozu).

Of course, one of the key points of a Takashi Miike film experience consists of the hours-long post-movie discussion with your movie partners, where you ask each other "So what do you think happened in the movie?" and "What was the movie about?", both questions quite possibly prefaced with "Don’t recite what we saw on the screen..." But the fact remains that we watch a Takashi Miike film to enjoy the pure sensory experience; there is a logic to his madness, to be sure, but it works on a bizarre dream-like level that one can never quite explain, yet still participate in.

So for all the fans and critics who have complained that they don’t get whatever is really, really happening in his films, Takashi Miike has produced what has to be his most logical movie to date, Big Bang Love: Juvenile A. A change from his free-flowing dream/nightmare narratives, Big Bang Love is filmed as a murder mystery. Set almost entirely in a state of the art, retro-futuristic juvenile detention facility, a police investigation is set into motion to find out what really happened when a meek, waifish inmate is found with his hands on the throat of a very dead fellow and previously very lethal fellow prisoner. I’m sure this movie is a very private joke of Miike’s: the detectives, like our audiences, keep wanting to get to the point of what really happened, what the murder was really about, and why it happened. But perhaps, like our audiences, they might be asking all the wrong questions, and imposing their own idea of logic and causality on a most unique crime...

The movie could really be about the fragility of youth and lost innocence – at least, that’s what one of the detective muses when the film opens – but that might not be the real point of the movie, even if it does describe the movie. Maybe it’s a very twisted male version of a women’s prison drama, with the prerequisite waif, the sadistic wardens, the creepy director of the prison, the abusive inmates, and the strange same-sex attraction between the waif and the mysterious and hyperviolent fellow prisoner – but that might not be the real point of the movie, even if it does describe the movie. It could be set in a futuristic world where the streets of Tokyo jostle aside Mayan pyramids and rocket launchpads – but that might not be the real point of the movie, even if it does describe the movie. Personally, I thought Takashi Miike has made a veiled criticism of the inhumanity of maximum security prison life that causes paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and increasing disconnection from reality in its inmates, amidst a touching story of how two emotionally and psychically-damaged individuals strike an impossible friendship in the least likely of places. Of course, my movie buddy had a completely different take on what the movie was about. And so will you.

This time round, Miike does round up his movie with a set of neat answers to the interrogating officers (and the audience). You get to know what the movie was about. And then you realise those answers are completely unnecessary and missing the point, and that the entire point was how gorgeously Miike (as always) has mixed dream and nightmares, sound and sight, desire and loathing, reality and whimsy, to create a haunting film about the waif and his violent friend. And hopefully, you’ll promise to watch the rest of his films in the same light, without insisting to find out what really happened, what it was really about and just enjoy the ecstasy and the madness that is a Takashi Miike film.

First published at incinemas on 25 January 2007

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