45th edition 27 January - 7 February 2016

Miike Takashi in da house

<strong>Ace Attorney</strong>
<strong>Ace Attorney</strong>
<strong>Ace Attorney</strong>

After controversial films such as Audition and Ichi the Killer, prolific Japanese director Miike Takashi is back in Rotterdam with the world premiere of Ace Attorney, a humorous game adaptation. Cinemagoers prefer laughter to being scared.

Ace Attorney is a court drama, but unlike any other. The film is based on the series Nintendo DS games Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney in which players adopt the role of inexperienced lawyer Phoenix Wright who has to defend a suspect in a murder trial. They can do detective work to collect evidence and can grill witnesses to solve the case. I was asked to direct this film because the game’s creators and hardcore players thought I’d be the right man for the job,” explains Miike “Initially, I wanted to make a film that would interest those that play the game, but I was curious what people who don’t would make of it.’’ The story’s hero, Phoenix Wright, is far from a self-assured, top lawyer. He bumbles around the courtroom desperately clamping on to every opportunity he can see whilst the judge is on the verge of declaring the suspect guilty. “Japanese films and novels often embody the message that as long as you work hard, you will develop and improve. What I loved about this game is the fact that it had none of that. The lead doesn’t develop, doesn’t get better over time. He is driven by the desire to help others, but doesn’t know much about the legal system.”

The film is full of surprising twists. “During preparation, this was a problem for us,” says Miike. “Sudden changes are commonplace in games, but films have to stay closer to reality. At first, we left them out, but that led to pretty standard results. In the end, we decided to make it a game-like film. It became an experiment with the laws of film. In my opinion, if you – as a director - adhere to the former too rigidly, you rapidly corner yourself.”

Ace Attorney is set in the near future when murder trials are fast-track procedures. Cases last a maximum of three days and sentences are usually imposed immediately. The public prosecutor and the lawyer have to score rapidly. “Crime in films is often very black and white,” observes Miike. “I exaggerated that ad absurdum. In reality most cases aren’t that simple. Ultimately, I think most people are probably capable of understanding the motives of many criminals.”

Miike Takashi became famous for his extremely scary, gory violent films such as Audition and Ichi the Killer. In comparison Ace Attorney is very light. “This film is indeed lighter,” admits Miike. “But if you examine my oeuvre as a whole, you’ll discover that I’ve made quite a lot of light fare. I’m not a director who wants to stamp my signature all over a film, but I do seek out the extremes. If it’s a violent film, I try to make it even more so, but if it is light in tone, I try to make it even lighter. Basically, I’m always going around in circles. If I’ve shot a lot of extreme stuff, I want to make something light again. Now I’ve made a light film, so it’s almost certain that my next film will be pretty extreme.’’

After the hilarious anti-superhero films featuring Zebraman, the often exceedingly funny Ace Attorney once again makes it very clear that Miike Takashi is good at directing comedy. “I’m from Osaka, the birthplace of Japanese humour. We have a tradition there of comedy duos called ‘manzai’. The language of Japanese comedy is the Osaka dialect. And, when people buy a ticket for a mainstream film like this, they generally prefer laughter to being scared.” Miike admits being easily scared. “As a child I often went to stay with grandma and grandpa. They lived in the countryside and had an outdoor toilet. Every night, it was a nightmare for me to go outside. It was so bad that I used to not drink water in the evenings so I wouldn’t have to go outside during the night. I think everyone has a dark side and – in principle – every director is capable of creating really creepy films. But, in general, the people who actually make them tend to be pretty frightened.’’ Colleagues such as Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth are fans of Miike Takashi. He himself, has a major soft spot for Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven. “The way Verhoeven visualises things exploding or breaking really appeals to me. When a body is torn apart or a spaceship explodes for example. He manages to capture this really beautifully, even when he uses computer graphics. He is one of the few to be able to do so. I think that’s amazing.”

Alongside Ace Attorney Miike shot two other films this year: Ninja Kids!!! and Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai. His next film has also been completed: Ai to Makoto, a manga adaptation. A promising teaser can already be found online. “The film couldn’t be more different than Ace Attorney. It’s based on a manga from my youth that most young people won’t know. I want to prove that old manga is much more interesting than the new stuff.” He laughs. “It’s resulted in a really weird film.”

Ace Attorney – Miike Takashi
Sunday 29 January 2012 14:00 Schouwburg Grote Zaal, Wednesday 1 February 2012 22:15 Pathé 3

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