During it’s 20th edition, the Fantasia Film Festival presented Takashi Miike with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Mike’s name has been a staple of the Fantasia experience over the years which is no surprise because the prolific Japanese filmmaker has over 100 credits to his name in 25 years.

If the shear number of films doesn’t blow your mind, the topics, extreme style and depictions of violence, dark humour, and the range of genres of film Miike has directed should: from crime dramas to kids’ films to ultra-violent manga adaptations to musicals to downright disturbing romances.

Personally, my introduction to Miike’s work came in the form of a recommendation by my trusted video store clerk, whose employee curated shelf served as a perfect Fantasia primer for my teenage self, handed me a copy of Miike’s 1999 film Audition (Odishon) with a firm warning and the seriousness of one facilitating a rite of passage. The film still unsettles me whenever it crosses my mind.

Photo by Julie Delisle

I had the honour of sitting down with Miike for a quick interview and had a chance to ask the filmmaker a couple questions.

Fillion: How do you choose which film projects you take on?

Miike: Firstly, I always look to see if I have the capacity to take on the project, if my schedule would permit it. So, if a project comes to me… If I think too much about the content, the budget, or which company the project is coming from, it would be shielding myself and it would cut off certain paths in my life. I don’t want to do that. So, I tend to take on work in the order that it comes to me.

Things change a lot depending on the times. Some of these elements will never come together again. Actually, my natural way is to see that the timing is right. If I think too hard I’ll miss certain connections and things I would have otherwise not known. My way is to try even if I am not familiar, even if it is the first time I attempt something.

Fillion: Which films have you found the most challenging to make?

Miike: Westerns or samurai films. Things that are not happening in our time. In my career, I had never done that before taking these on and it was something that was very interesting.

For example, when you are using horses, I didn’t know where to rent horses or where we could have the horses run. It was completely new for me. These are things that were common in older films but are on the verge of disappearing in current cinema.

The next thing that will be going will be action films with cars. They are too risky and many people no longer want to take that risk. In a film, there always needs to be an element of risk or else the spectators will feel this, that it’s not natural and lacks something. A film is like a gamble, to amuse the public, you have to bring something exciting. So overall, for me, making samurai films, older styles of films, was both interesting and very challenging.

Terra Formars: Bugs in Space

Along with coming to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award, this year, Miike brought two titles to the festival: As The Gods Will (2014) and Terra Formars (2016). Terra Formars is a live action adaptation of the Japanese manga series of the same name. Although not among the type of films I usually cover at Fantasia, Miike’s Terra Formars turned out to be a total blast: an action packed sci-fi somewhere at the meeting point between Starship Troopers and Power Rangers with a nod to Blade Runner.


In a distant future, humanity is looking to Mars as a solution to the overcrowding on Earth and the depletion of its resources. Hundreds of years ago, a space program sent moss and cockroaches to Mars as a means of warming up the planetary atmosphere and making it a livable habitat for humans. After a failed first attempt at colonization, a second top secret mission is sent to Mars to rid the planet of its cockroach problem.

Led by Ko Honda, the mission participants are promised big bucks and fresh starts as long as they accept being subjected to some genetic modifications to survive on martian soil. Oh, and kill the cockroaches.

Not even an hour after their arrival, the space team (a mix of small criminals, murderers, hackers, yakuza), quickly realizes that beyond being annoying and strange, Ko Honda has misinformed them. Turns out the cockroaches have mutated into gigantic powerful beasts of sorts and that their genetic modifications were actually to give each of them the abilities of insects multiplied to human scale.

Terra Formars is ridiculous in so many ways and self aware. The film is as funny as it can be sort of gross, in the best of ways, and the action is exhilarating. Discovering which creature the crew have been spliced with brought me back to the thrill of seeing Power Rangers as a kid and waiting to see what the rangers would morph into.

Ko Honda, the film’s villain of sorts, is one of my favourite characters in the film. I’d honestly like to see a sequel that focuses on his character some more. Although he has some of the stereotypical characteristics of film villains (especially those of earlier films), there was something really endearing, fun and fresh about Miike’s villain.

Ko Honda’s obsession with fashion took on a new meaning after meeting Miike in person. Ko Honda is almost a counterpoint to Miike in many ways: Ko Honda is agitated and skittish while Miike is poised and calm. That said, Mike has to be one of the most fashionable directors I have ever met at Fantasia. His jacket was striking, enough so to make Ko Honda totally jealous.

*Photos of Miike courtesy of Julie Delisle

Oh ye ole Fantasia Fest. Ye sideburns of geek. Ye vixens of awkward. Ye meowers of dark. Ye forever awesome lineup.

It’s been a few years for me, but I’m right pickled to be back in the Fantasia action, and these first few days have not disappointed. Here are a couple of movies you might want to check out, whether at Fantasia, or in theatres down the road, God willing.



Set in an Any Nowhere USA of the late 70s, Riley Stearns’ first feature brings us Orsen Roth: down-and-out cult and mind-control expert, living out of his car, touring regional hotels with his book no one wants, broke, eating ketchup with a fork. Down on his luck, nose continually bleeding, he owes a lot of money and is desperate for any way out of the hole he’s dug himself. A deprogramming job comes along, and it’s a chance at salvation, for better or worse.

Well-written, evenly directed and featuring a great ensemble of character actor weirdos, following likeable but despicable Roth around as he gets beat up, manipulated and teeters on every kind of edge is a good way to spend your evening.

Faults is screening for a second time tomorrow, July 24, at 7:15 p.m. at Theatre J.A. de Sève.

The Mole Song – Undercover Agent Reiji

Full disclosure: Takashi Miike is kind of a god. Supreme stylist among even the most showy directors, this is a man who is equally at home creating feudal ronin tragedies (Hara Kiri), out-Lynching Lynch (Gozu), and crafting manga live-action adaptions so complete they include nose bubbles and head-bump prosthetics (Nina Kids). In The Mole Song (likely his 100th feature), Miike showcases a couple of additional things he does especially well: the yakuza and funny.

Bringing both together into a world of razor-grilled midgets, sing-song DEA agents, butterfly obsessed number-2’s and the usual hoard of Miike perverts, The Mole Song does not disappoint, and is always willing to stoop a bit, if only to button a dumb joke with an even dumber, even funnier button. Though the third act leaves the tremendous energy built up kind of flattened, the sweet jokes keep coming, and it’s well worth a looksee overall.

Suburban Gothic

Ah, the suburbs! Once I got over the momentous shock of seeing Leland Palmer in person (he’s just a cool old white guy, but his head is so BIG, especially from mere FEET AWAY!), Suburban Gothic proved to be the most familiarly hilarious of picket-fence fancy feasts. Complete with mucho macho and anti-Mexican dad, skinny jeans garnering much unwanted attention, and a generalized sense of the cultural wasteland too many of us are overly well-acquainted with, Richard Bates Jr.’s latest was like going home again, only wayyy funnier. Also: JOHN WATERS AND JEFFREY COMBS CAMEOOOS.

The Zero Theorem


Verging on complete calculated nihilism, both retroactive and deeply insightful about the grandness and cheapness of the future that may be waiting around the corner (or which is already the past, as the director suggested in his hilarious welcome message), The Zero Theorem is as Terry Gilliam as it can get: beautiful, expansive, meandering, dysfunctional, unapologetic, and undeniably singular. An independent release, this one ain’t going wide, so see it, iTunes it, seek it out and share it if you can. As Gilliam mentioned, there’s always a chance this will be his last, especially when presenting the off-kilter, wholly unknown, and big-studio free. Must see, do see, gotta see, even if it holds a few headaches.

The Zero Theorem is screening for a second time Saturday, July 26 at 12:30 p.m. in the Concordia Hall Theatre.

Well, the first night of Fantasia has come and gone like a spirited midnight quickie, half remembered and leaving mysterious bruises and strained backs on all involved. Like most Fantasia openings, it was a rousing affair of speeches, cheers, overenthusiastic meows and a party afterward that was probably fun, but I wouldn’t know because screw socializing, I’m here for the cinema.

As has been the case so often, the main attraction for the evening was the new film by Takashi Miike, Fantasia darling and nominee for the most hard-working, utterly bashit insane director of the year award.

POSTER “üeHis new film, Shield of Straw, seems like dyed in the wool action/crime thriller, kind of a Japanese 3:10 to Yuma. After assaulting and murdering a 7-year old girl, an introverted psychopath has a bounty placed on his head by the girl’s billionaire grandfather, leading him to turn himself in. Of course, he has to be transported to Tokyo for trial, which means a small team of (naturally) emotionally unstable cops has to haul the bastard across the country, with everyone and their dog after them to try and kill the guy and collect the reward, including cops, a fact that quickly leads to mistrust and discord among the main cast.

Takashi Miike is one of those directors whose built up such a rep for throwing insane curveballs and going places you wouldn’t expect that the film already has a kind of tension from the get-go, as anyone who knows Miike’s work knows that all bets are off. In one scene when a crazed would be assassin holds a little girl at knife-point, the tension in the audience was palpable. In any other film, you know that kid’s gonna be ok. But this is Miike, we don’t know he wouldn’t have that kid get stabbed in the throat and bleed out right in front of us. It could totally happen. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Miike wasn’t deliberately playing with those expectations. It might as well have been him holding that knife to the kid, screaming “What am I gonna do?! You don’t know!! I own you!!”.

Expectations aside, what we’ve still got is a whip-smart thriller. The tension and suspense of who’s a traitor and whether or not the honest to the point of naivete hero cop will finally snap and put a bullet down the little shit’s ear canal are all played pretty high, and the film relies upon this far more than shooty action and thrills, are though there some pretty damn fun gun fights and this bit with a truck full of nitroglycerin.

Finally, on a totally nerdy technical note, the sound design is fantastic. Gunshots are actually appropriately loud and properly reverberate given the environment, and incidental sound effects like punches and squealing tires have more fidelity and punch (heh) than you see in most flicks.

Moving on to another high-profile debut, the second half of the evening was taken up by The Conjuring, the new horror film by Saw and Insidious director James Wan.

I’ve never been a fan of Wan’s work, which is a nice way of saying I found every time I’ve seen one of his movies I’ve wanted to grab him by the throat and throttle him yelling “You’re killing a genre you bastard!”. My hope was that since this time around it’s all based on a true story he’ll reign in things and go for subtlety through and through, and not have it end with Nite Owl being chased around by Darth Maul after he stole Freddy Krueger’s glove and got a bad haircut. Maybe this time things won’t just become a fireworks display of over the top effects and noise by the end.


By the time I got to the metro afterwards and started muttering angrily to myself about modern horror movies being crap, I realized that really wasn’t the case.

On the surface, it’s your fairly standard “idyllic family moves into new house, scary shit happens” plot. The Perrons, a nauseatingly happy family in the mid-70s, move into a new house, and before long find themselves being attacked by a demonic entity. Enter the Warrens, a husband and wife demonoligist team who set out to save the Perrons and spout exposition.

The film first shoot itself in the foot when, after it reminds us desperately that all of this is apparently true, it goes about depicting everything with this weird, almost cartoonish awkward exaggeration. Part of this is the acting, which ranges from passable to dismal. Almost nobody talks like an actual human being, they almost invariably sound like an actor reciting lines, which makes it a tad hard to believe or invest in the events. Wan’s direction similarly comes across as very deliberate and overt. There’s all these self-consiously precise camera movements, like Wan has some kind of bizarre fetish for dollys and pans, and after a while it’s like “Can you just stop playing with the angles for a minute and let the story play out?”.

The absolute apex of the film’s endeavor to have the audience not take it seriously is Officer Brad, a doofy comic relief cop who shows up in the second half to cut the tension and wander around looking like he did porno before he joined the force.

My hopes that for once a modern horror movie could show some goddamn restraint in the finale were dashed, when the last 20 minutes turns out to be a cavalcade of shrieking and noise and people being flung about on wires and “Oooh look at the scary witch, isn’t the frightening blaaagh blaagh!!!” and for fuck’s sake people, why is it that horror movies these days ALWAYS do this? It was bad enough in Mama where they showed the goddamn monster, well lit, and perfectly visible, but the ending of Conjuring just feels like the film gets tired of slow-burn tension and decides to just yell at us for 20 minutes, and that’s not scary, it’s annoying or downright silly, if not both.

And all this wouldn’t be as annoying if The Conjuring didn’t have some decent scenes and atmosphere, bits where you don’t actually SEE anything and it’s all conveyed through acting and sound and the implication of something scary rather than having shit thrown in our faces. If the movie had stuck with that it probably would have wound up being good, but it didn’t and now I’m just angry.

Stop making me angry James Wan.