2001, 84 minutes
directed by: Takashi Miike
Visitor Q is a movie from the prolific, controversial, and successful Japanese director Takashi Miike. It promises to be, in a film series that has certainly already featured some weird films, to be even weirder. For Miike is known for two things: 1) making a lot of movies and, 2) sometimes making some unbelievably weird movies. A number of his films have been remade by American production companies, one of the most recent of which was The Eye, starring Jessica Alba. Time magazine called Visitor Q “meta-weird,” which, depending on how you look at it, is either slightly intriguing or mildly depressing. In either case, it makes me completely sick of the prefix ‘meta-.’
Now, a few of the films selected for this “Future is Asian” series were intended to emphasize the current spate of extremely shocking, disturbing, and taboo-breaking films that are coming out of some parts of Asia, primarily Japan, and to a lesser extent South Korea. The general idea was that these uninhibited explorations of the fringes of human behavior could possibly provide some otherwise unavailable humanistic ideas. Maybe these relatively nascent cinematic cultures could utilize the dominant medium of film in a new way that would make all else obsolescent. In short, maybe something new could come of it. Maybe, somewhere in all of this weirdness, is the shock of the new—the Future. And there are few intentionally, deliberately, and successfully weird films as Visitor Q.
But in a sense, these “extreme” Asian films may be a perfect manifestation of what Paul Virilio was talking about when he wrote about “the vulgarization of techno-scientific progress” as being the driving force of history since the age of Gutenberg’s printing press. To summarize: in an age where techno-scientific progress is the primary goal of the people, it naturally follows that the extremes are the points of interest. Thus, it is the hallmark of the Modern age that the mass media would reward any “revolutionary abnormality.” Some people have seized upon this train of logic to explain our cultural fascination with industrial tycoons, serial killers, pro athletes, celebrities, scientists, and terrorists. For when an idea of progress is the goal, the only thing worth talking about is that which is better/faster/stronger/more extreme than what came before it.
Looking at these ‘Asian extreme’ films in the light of Paul Virilio, it becomes clear that these Japanese films, far from being the future, could be seen as stolidly Modern. Although any visit to Tokyo is likely to make you think you jumped into the future, if you think about it, maybe the reverse is true. You see, Japan, as savvy as it is with engineering and robotics, is still operating an industrial economy where manufactured cars and consumer electronics are keeping them afloat. The advances that are occurring that could possibly be post-Modern, in the realm of wireless communication, internet software, information technology, Web 2.0, and the like, are being made largely on the coasts of California. Tokyo, then, is the future as we imagined it 50 years ago.
Of course, this is all assuming that the Modern age is bound to be over soon, if it isn’t already, as some writers and thinkers like Mario Carpo suggest. Carpo says that what ended the Modern age was a shift of dominant media, from mechanically reproducible identical images to digital variance. If we then take Virilio’s ideas of modernity into account, then it would seem to argue for a future that is based in something other than primarily military-industrial, techno-scientific progress, which in turn would then seem to imply a shift away from the fetishization of transgression.
In conclusion, if you are a country with a strong, conventional military, well-manufactured electro-mechanical products, and really weird movies, then maybe you are not the future.
- quang truong (originally written February 19, 2008)