There are certain facts that cannot be disputed. Japanese genre cinema, as a phenomenon, is here to stay. Takashi Miike is at the forefront of Japanese genre cinema. Tom Mes is among the world's leading experts on both Japanese genre cinema and Takashi Miike. FAB Press tends to publish what can only be described as miraculous genre reference works. With those facts in mind, how can one even begin to dispute or disparage the marriage of those facts into one nugget of wholesome, creamy, genre-reference goodness? That's right, fuckers...you can't. FAB Press and Tom Mes have done it again. Since its first printing in 2003, "Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike" has been literally gobbled up by Miike fans and genre fans alike, and has been hailed as one of the best and most essential reference works in...well...ever! That's a judgement with which I'm gonna have to agree. Now, let me say again for the record that I do not receive any kind of special consideration (beyond the occasional review copy) from FAB, nor do I lightly plug any particular vendor, publisher, or distributor. It's just that, well, FAB just keeps on astounding me with the consistent quality and content of their publications. So, as long as they keep pumping out excellent work, I'll keep on dishing out the praise they so richly deserve.
"Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike" is the kind of book that makes fans go into dark corners and go *fap*fap*fap*, and for good reason. It's easy to throw together a critical comparison of a given filmmakers' body of work, and it might even be easy to produce a critical comparison that is worthy of publication. But, it's astoundingly difficult to produce a work that combines the facts and a clearly evident passion for the material the way Tom Mes has done here. Every last page is chock-full of interesting facts, juicy details, plot synopses, discussions of symbolism and breakdowns of thematic elements that many of Miike's films share in common. The book is broken down into sections that, respectively, detail Miike's early work as a direct-to-video "gun for hire", the early Yakuza flicks, and then the whole of Miike's theatrical filmography. Every last film is given pretty much equal treatment, as if Mes knows that, while Audition,Koroshiya Ichi (aka Ichi the Killer) and Visitor Q are generally considered Miike's more "important" works, his less-frequently-seen films such as Sabu and Bird People in China are nonetheless equally important in the evolution of Miike as cinema's most prolific, subversive, and diverse filmmaker. Everything you ever wanted to know about Miike's films (up to 2003, at least...Miike has made at least another six films since the publication of this book) is lovingly presented here, in as much detail and analysis as we can possibly stand.
For quite a while, I purposely avoided reading this book. That might sound odd, but the thing is that about six months before this book was initially published, I had just started to discover Takashi Miike's films for myself. Even then, I knew (like most people) that I was "on to" something special. When I learned of this book's existence, I was excited but filled with trepidation too, because I knew that I wanted to absorb Miike's work on my own terms, and I wanted to go into each film of his without the preconceived notions that reading a book like this can sometimes force on a reader. I'm glad I did...if only for the sake of discovering the basic themes that are so omnipresent in Miike's filmography. When I did finally read "Agitator", I was pleasantly surprised to find that my suspicions, interpretations, and summations were pretty much identical to Mes' own...and I found it a strangely empowering thing. It was as if my own feelings about Miike's work had suddenly been justified and underlined...as if someone had made a giant collection of DVD liner notes with a direct channel to my own brain. Thus is the ability of Mes' writing in "Agitator". It reinforces what you already know about Miike, yet it brings fresh new interpretations to the table that are impossible to ignore. Mes' strength is in his restraint...he almost never gives in to baseless hyperbole. He knows Miike isn't a deity, but he praises him as one nonetheless. He knows Miike's films aren't always perfect, but he sheds light on those imperfections then lets his readers come to their own decisions. It's this evident care and passion, combined with a deep understanding of not only Miike's films but film in general that makes "Agitator" such a joy to read.
So, it goes without saying that I adore this book. Love it. Want to marry it and have a gazillion of its babies. It's that rare breed of film reference book that is truly interesting and fun. But, again, this is no major surprise as it's a FAB release. Like all FAB books, it's quite well put together; both solid and well-bound, with high quality paper that's clearly meant to stand up to repeated readings and even hardcore perusing.
Now, at the risk of overstatement, all I can say is that "Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike" is a profound achievement that works on its own terms, and remains an example to other publishers of just how to do stuff like this the right way. All hail to Miike! All hail Tom Mes and FAB Press! "Agitator" is the last book on Miike you'll ever need (at least, until a revised and expanded edition comes out...droooool).
Now if you'll pardon me...the book and I need to spend some "quality time" together...