Monday, March 08, 2004

On Takashi Miike's Bizita Q (Visitor Q)

Taking a detour from poetry to film, though I don't think that poetics and film theory are necessarily that different...

It isn't that I am at all surprised folks don't groove to Takashi Miike's work. His work is purposefully and purposively disturbing. I want to address a common thread of talk about his films--folks look at his work as inconsistent, meaningless, unintelligent, too excessive. But a lot of folks don't read or don't remember what they read. And we, as a culture, are so genre-focused. We want rules to judge by and for.

Bizita Q, 2001, reminds me of the great outsider, modernist classics of literature from Ducasse to Bataille. It illustrates in grotesque detail, the process of going under to get over. Beginning with a horrofying scene of incest-rape as a form of prostitution, the story focuses on people who are not only depraved but completely unaware of their depravity. Because the father character in the movie attempts to produce a completely unique reality TV show, many folks focus on Miike's film as a critique of that genre--its participants and audience. Wrong move. Reality TV is but a symptom in Bizita Q. If you watch the film strictly as a satire of that genre, you are in for a rude awakening. Bizita Q is reality TV.

I am going to write just a few things about the film and my experience with it; we can chat about it and others if there is a pulse towards such discussion. I am going to address many things below in a very short space:

When I was in London a couple of years ago, the BFI screened Godard's Weekend. A crummy translation, from what I could tell, severely limited the sexual dialogue, and the sound turned down real low to lessened the overall jarring effect of the film. It was warmly received. Go figure. Last year in Denver, the Denver International Film Fest. folks screened a better translation at proper volume. The movie radically disturbed the entire audience--loud crashing cars, screams, pornography, cannibalism, clashing ideologies, trash, shock: and the art of cinema--its utter destruction. I can only imagine what a large screening must have been like in the late sixties.

I felt this while watching Bizita Q: that Miike concretely addresses conventional ideological content of gender race and class through a specific genre that he purposefully deconstructs. Hence, all the exploitation genre buffs scream bloody murder about the film lacking intelligence and making no sense and the film literati complaining about excess and meaninglessness.

The film is spectacular exploitation from beginning to end--from incest, rape, lactation, sexual hysteria to death. Not everybody's idea of cinematic pleasure. But it isn't the violence, sex and carnival that is exploitation in Miike's film; instead, he turns the everyday into exploitation. His family, in Q, is a real family. They feel authentic. The actors may be hysterical as they interact with the world and each other, but their glances towards one another, their time in each scene, their expressions are each and every time authentic. Good acting; good directing.

And lots of death in Miike's films. Unfortunately and suspiciously, most critics fail to mention what the film appears to be about: REBIRTH.

After the excretions and releases, the pained recognitions of deprevation and decadence, the honest presentations of what we really do to each other, and a humorous yet fashionable fool (Q) who visits, squats is more apt, there is a moderate rebirth, a coming together. And it isn't excessive either. The rebirth at the end of the film is seriously attenuated in contrast to the noise of what precedes it--the scene is quiet. Mother's breasts painfully lactate from non-use, from lack of care, from ignorance, from abuse: self and other. When the whole family gets it right in the end, when they come together, get over themselves, her breasts don't spurt uncontrollably; rather, she provides lovingly and is herself loved.

I was moved. One might see in this a stereotype of motherhood or a representation of the importance for an ideological use of mothering; and a viewer couldn'tbe blamed for such an idea. Miike often focuses on mothers and motherless-ness. But, really, the family in Q is reborn and nourished through one another. SUPERethical moment: the city, the body, the family and all comes together in a moment of courage and generosity. After a long trudge through the grotesque, I felt rewarded with a moment that combined sentimenality, nostalgia for a lost mother, and virtue. Finally, a family who learned the relationship between the city, the body, friends, circumstances, equipment and life itself.

I didn't know what to expect with this film as it went on--how it would end. I was overcome at times, disgusted, laughing at my disgust, at Miike's nerve, dismayed...(some people think this is accidental, that the film is pointless...) The path through Q is chaotic, its narrative resists being colonized by authorized and well-practiced and meaningless conventions. Nevertheless, when I watch a film by a director concerned with art, appearance, representation, culture, architecture, design--well, I give it a chance.

With Q, I was taken to a strange and unexpected ending point. It is quiet and inviting and infantile and innocent, yet it makes the statement I have understood from youth and always find in my favorite books: you have to go under to get over. It also, as does Ichi, the Killer, also critiques Fulfillment as does Mishima in Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Q begins in the depths of despair and depravation and, when a stanger enters the picture, a person from outside of the sick culture being filmed, he begins (albeit in his own grotesque and violent manner) to get folks to see themselves for who they are, and then and only then after each individual begins to accept responsibility for his and her actions do they begin to get better, to heal, to forgive, to come together.

A society cannot erase its wrongs, states are not actually ever undone, psychoses linger, but there is respite. Miike gives us that in his films in strange doses.

The only aspect of the film I thought served no purposed, either narratively or symbolically, was the length of the necro scene. The necrophilia seems logical, though arrives at a point in the film when you may have had enough to withstand it: a representation of sex and death at the moment of what could become death not only for a woman but an entire culture. Nevertheless, I thought it over-hysterical. It tried too hard; the artifice was too apparent. But that is a critic's statement, isn't it? I see the artifice.

The hysteria--many critics call it weirdness or senselessness or stupidity--is supposed to be there. Hysteria is real--it beats down ideology; It disrupts order; It produces its own space.

But the father rapes his associate's lifeless body into defecation. I thought, well, you know, I didn't need to see that "all"--we all know that dead bodies excrete but... Nothing much else in the film produced that reaction. Reminds me of the rape in Once Were Warriors. We know the family friend is going into the daughter's room to rape her: a cut from him entering and pulling back the sheets and taking her to her in the tub trying to clean herself would have been more powerful because of the cut. That cut is as violent as the rape--it refuses her witnesses, it victimizes her, yet opens the door on her privacy as she tries to clean up the mess. But the graphic rape is not pornographic, not really violent. We have seen it before. It becomes conventional--a spectacle.

Last House on the Left, a film I think deserves more attention than cult status, lingers excrutiatingly long on the utter degredation and lack of care for human dignity in its killers psyche's and we all get to watch them make a victim urinate on herself before she is killed as if such excess-excess is proof of that degredation. The director and producer say to us, slyly, it isn't us it's them; or it isn't us, though it's in each of us nevertheless. When I watch the film, I say: We know guys, get on with it.

When the artifice of the grotesque becomes apparent--when an artists explicitly shows us the thought, "Well how far can I take it before I go too far?"--then any such depicted event is likely to become nothing more than a meaningless spectacle.

Hats off to Miike. I enjoy, get a right flutter actually, all the whining from the exploitation crowd about his films--from the sexist pigs who use the "shock" genre (for lack of an all-inclusive word) as a front for their pornography fetishes--the T&A crowd, the snuff diarists, the racist pimps: straight guys who are offended by homosexuality yet visit gloryholes in porn arcades and their girlfriends who put up with it because they too are pigs yet discrete about it. They are offended that rules are broken. And, these are the people who populate a lot of the contemporary world, the peripherary, in Miike's Bizita Q: the bullies, the pigs, the voyeurs. These kinds of folks are in many of his films, watching. Powerful statement and indictment, in my opinion.

Miike doesn't try to moralize nor is he an exploiter.

By the way, saw the boring Tarrantino Kill Bill. I know why his film received so much critical attention. In the US market, we just don't get to see the films he is now riffing off. He is talented; I wish he'd improvise a little. And he's certainly been studying Miike. In Ichi, the Killer a prostitute that the "super-hero" (who's not a hero at all and not super either) visits a prostitute whose pimp brutally beats and rapes her each evening. The interaction between the whore and her pimp--she cries but likes the beatings but hates the whoring--is similar to how Uma Thurman is treated in Kill Bill: raped, beaten, recovers in a "Pussy Wagon": she is our heroine but is not a great woman either. But Tarrantino's characterization is all stlyized and commodity fetishism; and he cleans her up a great deal. Their is nothing cute in Miike's film(s). And the western film market always cleans up and makes cute the already fetishized-cuteness from Asia. In Ichi when the woman is beaten, she is beaten--and brutally so. No apologies; it happens. No excuses; he does it to her. In Tarrantino's violence there exists a cuteness that winks that it is all artificial and therefore art--that he participates in a genre-building exercise so is cultivating a craft. What nonsense. He is a scrivener. Miike creates unabashedly.

Well enough now.

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