Japan's 'Shield of Straw' an Action Pic in Cannes

CANNES, France - Director Takashi Miike says shooting an action movie in Japan is a lot harder than it looks.

His Cannes Film Festival entry "Shield of Straw" is a robust thriller about a team of police tasked with escorting a child-killer with a billion-yen bounty on his head safely across the country.

"It was extremely difficult to shoot all the scenes in Japan," he told reporters Monday. "It was impossible to close down the highways and get so many police cars on the road" - and Japan's railway operator refused to let the filmmaker shoot on its trains. Fortunately, Taiwan uses Japanese trains on its system, and was happy to oblige.

Although touched with serious themes of loyalty and duty, at heart "Shield of Straw" is an old-fashioned action flick, bursting with car chases, gunfights and explosions to rival anything from Hollywood - including a spectacular highway pileup and minutes of mayhem on a high-speed train.

The director says he felt Japanese cinema had lost the art of making "spectacular scenes - so I gave myself a challenge."

"In Japan we've lost a lot of traditions with action (movies)," he said. "It's not audiences who don't want to see these movies. It's the professionals, the people who make the films.

The prolific 52-year-old director has a long history of shocking cinemagoers with the gory and sometimes cartoonish violence of his films, which range from horror movies to tales of gangsters and samurai.

"Shield of Straw" - starring Nanako Matsushima (best known outside Japan for "Ring") and Takao Osawa - was met with a mix of cheers and boos at its first Cannes press screening. Trade magazine Variety judged that it "feels out of place in Cannes competition, but would be right at home on local megaplex screens."

Miike - who competed at Cannes in 2011 with his 3-D picture "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" - admitted he was "really astonished" to be selected this time, and Osawa said he was "a little stressed" about how the film would be received at its red-carpet premiere Monday evening.

But festival director Thierry Fremaux has compared "Shield of Straw" - adapted from a novel by manga artist Kazuhiro Kiuchi - to the 1940s and `50s films of Howard Hawks - movies that achieve artistry while sticking to cinematic formula.

"I wanted to make a film in a rather classical way," Miike said.

"I don't really know what I'm heading towards now - perhaps toward a more traditional type of cinema, perhaps the opposite."

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