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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 February, 2004, 11:39 GMT
Japan film's throne of blood
Ichi The Killer
Miike's Ichi The Killer required 11 cuts before being passed in Britain
From Kill Bill to Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, the Japanese influence is becoming more and more visible in the film world today.

And while Japanese influences have been in Western film for a long time, more people than ever before are now seeking out the extreme violence and horror that is part of modern Japanese cinema but rare in other countries.

For example, in contrast to Edward Zwick's stylised The Last Samurai, Japanese director Takeshi Kitano has also released a samurai picture, Zatoichi.

Kitano's film, about a blind man who becomes a master samurai swordsman, features close-up slashing, dismemberment, and gallons of blood.

"I'm always puzzled about why so many people have asked me about violence in interviews," Kitano told BBC World Service's Masterpiece programme.

"With Zatoichi I wanted to make the blood look more splatterly than it is in real life, to give it almost a videogame-like look.

"I knew that there would be quite a high body count, so I wanted to make it look almost unreal."

Video-film

Japanese audiences find extreme screen violence more acceptable than many other cultures.

One of the foremost directors associated with this style is Takashi Miike, whose films, such as Ichi The Killer and Audition, are hugely popular around the world with certain audiences.

The Ring
The remake of The Ring was a huge success - although many critics prefer the original
His features include many images less adventurous Western cinema-goers would find unacceptable. Both Ichi The Killer and Audition, for example, feature many graphic scenes of torture.

Miike is one of a number of "video-film" makers, who shoot numerous, frequently violent films on low budgets.

Film critic Kitchero Yanashita has described this as a "new way" of film-making.

"Miike's films are violent, but they are using violence with no meanings," he said.

"When you see a violent scene you always find a reason - there must be something to make these people very violent. But I think Miike's a real anarchist."

But violence is not always used in Japanese films for such hollow ends.

In the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa - no relation to legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, but a man described as the most important Japanese director of our era - it is used to highlight loneliness and isolation in everyday life.

"In his movie Cure, there are are people - like friends - talking about everyday life. Suddenly, one guy kills the other," Yanashita explained.

"Behind this scene, I think there is the idea that people cannot understand, 100% fully, each other."

Death and the internet

Kurosawa is a prolific filmmaker, averaging between three and five films a year.

They have short, one-word titles, such as Charisma or Pulse - superficially a teen horror film about a lethal virus that spreads through the internet.

Cybercafe
The internet is supposed to connect you to the whole world - and you're connected to the world through a line - but if you pull out the line, the line is dead
Kiyoshi Kurosawa
But Kurosawa explained that his view is that the more interconnected we are, the lonelier we are.

"The fact that the internet is supposed to connect you to the whole world - and you're connected to the world through a line - but if you pull out the line, the line is dead," he told Masterpiece.

"You're not connected to anyone anywhere, and you're completely isolated and alone.

"My hypothesis is that this is very close to death.

"This line is disconnected, and it's a pure loneliness, a pure isolation. That for me is the image of death."

It is nothing new for aspects of Japanese film to be borrowed by Hollywood.

1960's The Magnificent Seven was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, while Kurosawa's Rashomon has profoundly influenced a huge number of films, from Paul Newman-starring The Outrage to last year's Basic.

The Phantom Menace
The roaming Jedi of Star Wars have their roots in Japanese samurai
Manga films such as Akira have had an established market for a long time. Even the word Jedi - the name for the heroic knights in George Lucas's Star Wars films - comes from "jidai geki", the Japanese phrase for period drama.

'Latest trend'

However, the worldwide audience for the darker, violent Japanese films is now growing rapidly.

In addition to the Hollywood remake of The Ring, Audition and Battle Royale have proved to be big successes on their own. More are certain to follow.

"It seemed like there wasn't anywhere in the world that was bringing a fresh and modern perspective to the idea of disturbing you and making you lose sleep," said David Aaron Clarke, a writer for Asian Cult Cinema magazine.

"That was the point when I discovered this amazing new wave of Japanese horror films."




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