Taipei as Shinjuku's other

Emilie Yueh Yu Yeh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Japanese cinema since the 1980s was noted for its apparent decline, and only recently was its recovery recorded with the performance of several popular films in the domestic market.1 Parallel to the recovery was Japanese cinema's artistic achievement by independent filmmakers who emerged from television and video sectors. Miike Takashi is among these directors whose quick, efficient workmanship helped accumulate an impressive repertoire and establish a cult reputation. Like another noted Japanese filmmaker, Kitano Takeshi, Miike pushed a new engagement with the yakuza picture and rendered this genre attractive to fans of Asian popular cinema. But this does not mean that Miike and Kitano share similar views of contemporary Japanese cinema. On the contrary, Miike and Kitano engage differently with the film culture, hybrid identities, and multicultural society in Japan. Miike displays a sometimes morbid fascination with Asia and Asian cinemas. Many of his films are shot in other Asian countries or are diegetically related to Asian cities, notably Taipei and Hong Kong. Kitano, on the other hand, is less preoccupied with the relations between Japan and the rest of Asia. Although Kitano played a Japanese-Korean gangster in Blood and Bones (Chi to hone, 2004) directed by Sai Yoichi, a second-generation Korean, as director Kitano maintains a persistent Japanese identity in his portraits of a narcissistic, ultra-masculine Japan. Compared with Kitano's self-conscious branding and polished workmanship (the K trademark opening Kitano's films), Miike's films are erratic, jagged. The messy states of Miike's fictional world have been aptly summarized as " lack and excess." 2 Miike avoids working with the same organizations or producers, and he does not commit himself to a single genre or style. He moves around and among genres, mixing yakuza, sci-fi, horror, and action at will. Where Kitano's rich productions are aligned with well-known professionals and media conglomerates (Shochiku, Bandai Visual, TV Asahi, Tokyo FM Broadcasting, etc.), Miike's low-budget films are made by floating crews, with on-the-fly schedules, attached to no specific brand name, apart from that of the director himself. If Kitano's films come out of the calculations of the ubiquitous master K, then films by Miike convey a shifting, small case 'm' standing for messy, and master-less. Kitano's modern ro-nin are dignified men of action and conviction; Miike's characters are restless mongrels, deranged mobs, and losers. While Kitano's heroes are " big brothers" of physical prowess and romantic angst (Nishi, Zatoichi and aniki, the Big Brother), Miike paints his underdogs with wild homosexual perversity. These brief comparisons reveal the underlying disparity between Miike and Kitano. Miike's reputation as a cult director associated with a trashy, over-thetop, camp style is related to the conditions of his productions. He travels widely and trespasses geographical, financial, and stylistic boundaries. In other words, Miike represents mukokuseki (literally, " nation-less" ), the practice of crossing, hybridization, and co-production. In contrast, Kitano's prestige is achieved by his kokuseki (citizenship), his " re-ignition of Japanese tradition," especially in his 1997 breakthrough Hanabi.3 What is important is not, however, comparison of these two directors but their deployment of non-Japanese criminal elements as devices of style. It is Miike's transnational, trans-generic consciousness that enables his films to be made quickly and cheaply. Global circulation is here mobilized by the mukokuseki style, which, in turn, is a product of the filmmaker's transitory, transnational mode of co-production. Miike's escape from the national style is illustrated in an interview: Japanese film people have this very conservative idea of what a film should be - and that's what they make again and again. Everyone is trying to make " film-like films" - they can't do anything else. There are enormously talented people outside the film industry who could challenge that way of thinking 4 Miike says that he is not interested in making the kind of cinema that simply repeats and recycles itself, alluding to films by major studio directors such as Yamada Yoji or even the independent Kitano Takeshi and films such as Poppoya (aka Railroad Man, 1999; dir. Furuhata Yasuo), Bayside Shakedown (Odoru daisosasen, 1998; dir. Motohiro Katsuyuki), Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei, 2002; dir. Yamada Yoji), and Zatoichi (dir. Kitano Takeshi, 2003). Miike seems to imply that these works, institutionalized as representative of Japanese cinema, no longer satisfy audiences and young creators. The indelible imprints of Japaneseness that these films have have become dead signs, signs with no energy or vitality. Clearly, Miike wants to break away from the traditions of Japanese cinema or, in his own practice, to create a cinema that keeps its distance from national cinema a la Shochiku, Fuji Television, or even Office Kitano. The Asian dimension of Miike dominates his rejuvenization of Japanese film. This disavowal of Japan in turn takes Miike onto different terrain, both geographically and cinematically. Miike Takashi's films have an obsession with East Asia. Exotic Asian locations, peoples, and cultures give Miike's films a vivid transnationality or statelessness - mukokuseki. In Shinjuku Triad Society (Shinjuku kuroshakai: Chaina mafia senso-, 1995) and Rainy Dog (Gokudo- kuroshakai, 1997), Taipei is a refuge for Japanese gangsters and a place for hideous transnational crimes. But this transgressive transnationality is indebted to mukokuseki akushon, " borderless action," a 1950s/1960s genre known for its fusion of gangster, western, James Bond, and film noir. Where does Taipei, a capital city of Japan's former colony, stand in the latest rendition of mukokuseki in the films of Miike Takashi? Does Taipei function as a mirror of underground society? As postcolonial nostalgia? Or as something else? Given the concerns of the present volume, with Taipei running as an " engine of various desires," can we also find in Taipei potent fears, dread and loathing, as it arises in the fevered mind of Japanese storytellers? The following discussion revisits the concept of mukokuseki in the spatial imagination of Japanese gangster films, with a focus on the representation of Taipei. The essay consists of three parts: mukokuseki as a mode of production and urban representation; Taipei as an ambivalent site for mukokuseki ventures; and finally, Taiwan New Cinema scenes as desirable locations/edges for the stylistic reorientation of contemporary Japanese cinema.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCinema at the City's Edge
Subtitle of host publicationFilm and Urban Networks in East Asia
EditorsYomi Braester, James Tweedie
PublisherHong Kong University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9789882206052
ISBN (Print)9789622099845, 9789622099838
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010

Publication series

NameTransAsia: Screen Cultures
PublisherHong Kong University Press

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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