Takashi Miike – “Box” Analysis
September 3, 2010 § 18 Comments
With the compilation Three… Extremes, we see very specifically how each director believes a horror movie should “behave” in a sense. With Fruit Chan, you may interpet an overall eeriness and the building of suspense with numerous but vague clues as to what is transpiring. With Park Chan-Wook, maybe he assesses the genre as something that can be self-aware and still manage to shock you. But with Takashi Miike, I feel that, in this case at least, he believes in the theme of silence and stillness, which explains firstly the hollowness of the soundtrack, in turn giving more impression to such sounds as the subtle music box and the shrill setting ablaze of the tent. Secondly, this explains the very slow pacing, giving time to feel the impact of each piece of new information you see. He also generally avoided usual horror elements and only retrieves them sporadically like a trickster.
Clearly the most apparent concept of “Box” is the blurring of reality and dreams. Throughout the first 38 minutes, it’s the something you try to decipher, but the ending tells you that it was all a dream. Does this make the whole movie a useless exercise in storytelling? I find completely the opposite to be true for the ending reveals a key element; the two girls are conjoined in reality. That will be indulged in soon. Color also plays a pivotal role: you see Kyoko (the main girl who grew up) in white first as she wakes up, but then after the title shot you see her at her job with a blue scarf and blue dress. The man that meets her there is her editor, Yoshii, who is the same actor playing Higata in the tent. She touches Yoshii’s face where Higata gets the scar, tying those two characters together. This is the first dream level.
The title may allude to the story being connected by boxes, even outside of the main two. However, perhaps the boxes are secondary to the final twist. What do the Siamese twins represent? They are always together in reality, but during the dream(s) they are not only separate but completely separate spirits. They still share the same face but feel different emotions. In the second dream level, Shoko is favored by Higata even though they performed identically, gives her a blue necklace, and the next few sequences guide you to believe that Kyoko develops an inferiority complex, leading to her accidentally killing Shoko in the blue box.
However, there’s no reason for Kyoko to feel inferior to Shoko. She’s the main part of the real body, or at least the larger part. Perhaps the final line that “our dreams differ slightly” is meant to be ironic. Kyoko is allegedly to be the one dreaming, but what if some of it is Shoko instead? Kyoko dream ends horribly for herself. Shoko seems to think that Kyoko wants to kill her, and justifies it by dreaming that she was actually better than her but was Higata’s victim because Kyoko was the one who was jealous.
In fewer words: your archetypal projection of jealousy. To Shoko, Kyoko is the one who can walk around. Shoko merely “floats” on Kyoko’s body (hence the floating in the stairwell, oh how daft). So, perhaps their dreams sort of spliced together for an instant, which has been known to happen with Siamese twins. The most logical example is when Shoko stared at and then ignored Higata suffocating Kyoko; that’s where it’s most evident the dreams blended together for a bit so that Shoko had her own reprise. Shoko’s projection of herself in Kyoko would explain why in the dreams Kyoko is connected with blue but in real life blue represents Shoko (there is also another point in the beginning where Kyoko says “The box is too small, I can’t breathe”, which could be an indication of this).
Back in the first dream level, you see Kyoko standing still in a crowd of people outside, and she’s wearing Higata’s clothes and her own mask, and you see the editor approaching. The next cut shows Kyoko in her previous scarf outfit, why? Since it’s a dream, Miike could’ve used an atypical way to juxtapose the relationship of Yoshii and Higata. This relationship is strange because both characters eventually appear in the same dream level, but it seems like at first Yoshii is relatable as a more diffident mentor compared to Higata’s rigidness, and Yoshii was brought in from real life (he is the same editor at the closing scene) to subdue Higata. When Higata appears in the first dream level, his presence overwhelms Kyoko so much that Yoshii is erased.
Higata’s grave digging occurs on the first dream level subconsciously where Kyoko is never aware of it. In this same exact area of that decadent tree you see a shot of the tent during a show, eventually followed by Shoko outside the burning tent, which is foreshadowing to her box “incident”, and you also see old Kyoko collapse in the same spot when nothing is around but the tree that tied all the shots together. That is its only significance.
Once Kyoko awakes once more, wearing white, this is the scene you find out the truth about her, and you must return to the Siamese twin thesis. In Kyoko’s dream, she subconsciously wants to be not only separate but further the notion through murder to be completely alone in her own skin. This is a very practical conclusion to why they exist separately and as different types of people.
I think the less you try to analyze “Box” and the more subtleties you notice, the clearer a lot of the sequences become. The symbolism of the boxes becomes symbolic of captivation, and the bloody dart was in old Kyoko’s hand while the music box plays right before she saw dead Shoko in the building, which I think is just more foreshadowing that she was going to kill her. The burial, since it was in the same location as the tent, was just to finish off the remains of Shoko in Kyoko’s mind. Higata’s mask was to further emphasize Yoshii’s second face, let alone Yoshii’s real existence. And people say this was the worst of the Three… Extremes… silly humans
Dude. We were dumbfounded after viewing this movie, we struggled just trying to understand what was real and what was fake. You are a genius. I don’t know how any person could ever hope to decipher this tale, but you seem to have done so. Please become rich and famous, then make movies, because we want to see the works of someone who understands Miike (even remotely)
Kylan and Zac
Thank you very much! I’m glad you find it helpful, and if there’s any “requests” you have about another film let me know.
You can also analyze here editor’s fascination with whether she writes with her left or right hand, a question to which she doesn’t respond. In fact, she seems to become nervous after he asks her. This may be alluding to the possibility that she only has ONE hand with which to write (being a siamese twin).
Furthermore, Shoko is conjoined to Kyoko’s left side. Could Shoko actually be the creative one? I think they both want the same man, (real life Yoshii), and that is why Kyoko wants to get rid of Shoko. Great analysis you wrote!
That would be one peculiar subtlety if that’s true. I think they both want him too but for different reasons. Thank you for the comment
Your interpretation made me understand the movie more deeply and allowed me to think further. Thank you very much. I think without this I would understand only little. I would like to suggest that they grew up together until a certain age from than on Shoko has not any longer grown but Kyoko has grown up to maturity. And that age is the age when the fire in the tent event happened. In any case it is a wonderful movie.
Thank you for the comment. I did notice the age difference between them in the present but I felt it was a can of worms I could not restrain. If you have any further ideas feel free to comment again.
Thank you for answering. I also have a suggestion about the size of the box. In the fire-stage scene we tend to think the size of the box is as it is because it is an impressivly small size for an elastic-girl-child to get in. However in fact it is the size of a coffin that Shoko would actually fit in once she was amputated (for she has not got the lower half of the body) . When we think that they have actually never worked as elastic-girls, I believe the alternative determinant for the size of the box is the actual size of Shoko.
Perhaps. What makes you think she would be amputated though?
That is how I have understood it as soon as I read your interpretation without really questioning my previous assumptions. Maybe because of your expressions like “Shoko seems to think that Kyoko wants to kill her”, “Higata’s grave digging” , “In Kyoko’s dream, she subconsciously wants to be not only separate but further the notion through murder to be completely alone in her own skin. ” For me it all had to be like this.
Or is it that I am using the term “amputation” wrong? I meant a seperation operation which would mean the death of Shoko for not having the lower half of the body.
As soon as I read your interpretation this is how it appeared in my mind; the issue is that Kyoko is a mature woman and she feels romantic with Yoshii. Shoko is hindering, something Kyoko wants to rid of.. But this idea makes Kyoko feel deeply guilty. So she often cries with guilt although this fire event never actually happened.
OK it could be “murdering” subconsciously as you say but having a romantic relation that she wants to live etc the right way would be a legal operation. And Kyoko being a mature woman and Shoko no more than an extension it seems this is even reasonable from a certain perspective.
OK my conclusion is this; Kyoko wants a seperation operation because she wants to live on decently and have a romantic relation with Yoshii. But this would mean the death of Shoko so Kyoko feels deeply guilty.
Ok I see where you’re coming from now. At first it makes sense, but I also have to consider personal experience with these attitudes in my dreams. I’m sure many people have morbid, equivocal selves in their dreams wherein actions take place that never could or would in reality because the dream is addressing things in the most raw and abstract fashion. You can inevitably draw the lines in how this correlates to the film.
I think when you mention Kyoko crying often, it is because she is having a selfish reflection of her “burden.” In reading this again, there’s a line where I reference Yoshii’s mask hiding his true identity and this too could align with the idea that he shares the romantic yearning but only ruthlessly within the dream.
Basically I don’t see the amputation happening, and if not for the points listed above, then for the fantastical framing of the last shot from which I infer humor rather than spite.
Now I understand your point better. Mine was just a try. May I ask you to give names of more movies of this sort, Miike’s or of others?
Trying is necessary, no worries.
Other movies like this…man, off the top of my head I don’t know; Mulholland Drive seems too easy of an answer. For some reason I thought of this anime Domu (by the same guy who did Akira), but Miike, I don’t know about anything very close to this but “Gozu” would probably be close enough. If you mean just in terms of artistic aspects, then try Happiness of the Katakuris or Big Bang Love.
Songs From The Second Floor, the Swedish film, might also appeal to you in a similar way.
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Personnaly, I too really enjoyed this movie. Your analyse did help a lot, because while I watched the movie, I missed some important details. I had to reawatch some parts to get the colors complexity and their true meanings, I’m already familiar with Takashi’s style and to other movies of a semblable genre and this one was a master piece of twisted love and souls but it would’nt please the close mindeds and people who only look for raw entertaining without actually having to think. Anyway, this part of the three was by far my favorite. The Director’s a twisted mind genius and his idea of showing the complexity of the life and minds of siamese was original and interesting.
Loved your analysis wintertriangles. Just finished the extremes trilogy and you were a great help to my partner and I. Can you shed any light on to ‘Back to the Future part II’?
I am one of the “silly human”. hahahah. And to think the Korean one was boring , this Japanese one really takes the cake. I am going back to my Spongebob Squarepants. 🙂