Postcard: Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 3:46pm

Japanese directors who are feted abroad can often expect some rough handling at home. After his Rashomon won the Golden Lion at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, Akira Kurosawa was slated by some Japanese critics for the supposed Western taint in his films.

More recently, Eiga Geijutsu, a film magazine famed for its annual "worst 10" critics' poll, named The Land of Hope and Himizu by Sion Sono as its worst and second worst Japanese films for 2012, despite their many foreign festival invites.

Takashi Miike was once another case in point. Acclaimed abroad as Japan's reigning king of cult for such extreme films as Audition (1999) and Ichi the Killer (2001), the filmmaker was all but ignored by the local critical and industry establishment for a time.

But with One Missed Call, a 2003 horror film about teenagers sending each other ghostly - and deadly - cellphone messages, Miike had his first mainstream hit, with a US$16 million domestic take. That same year, his yakuza shocker Gozu was screened at Cannes, and its overseas reviews mostly ranged from the positive to the rapturous.

Since then Miike has continued to be a commercial hitmaker in Japan, and a festival favourite and critical darling abroad. His 13 Assassins (2010) was screened in competition at Venice while garnering a 96 per cent collective score on the Rotten Tomatoes website. In Japan it earned a solid US$17 million and was rated the fourth best domestic film of the year by Kinema Junpo. The one-time industry bad boy had arrived.

He isn't through with upsetting people, however. Released last November in Japan and opening this week in Hong Kong, Miike's Lesson of the Evil is a shock fest about a psychotic teacher (played by Hideaki Ito) who flips and shoots his class of terrified junior high school students. Despite protests against its exploitation of real-life school violence, the film continued to draw local fans even after the December 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the US.

April 26 sees the release of Miike's Straw Shield in Japan. The cop thriller, produced by Warner Brothers Japan, features a gigantic explosion, massive crowd scenes and shoot-outs on a bullet train. Another candidate for an Eiga Geijutsu worst? In any case, Miike will be laughing all the way to his next big box-office score or Cannes invitation - or both.

Lesson of the Evil opens on Thursday