The Austin Chronicle

The Happiness of the Katakuris

Not rated, 113 min. Directed by Takashi Miike. Starring Naoto Takenaka, Tetsuro Tanba, Naomi Nishida, Shinji Takeda, Keiko Matsuzaka, Kenji Sawada.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 29, 2002

If you're not familiar with Japanese shock/schlock filmmaker Takashi Miike's work, this may not be the best introduction. As a jumping-off point, it's freakishly interesting and even outright hilarious at times, but, then again, so are most funerals. Miike is known stateside for his films Audition and Visitor Q, both of which take conventional Japanese life and cinematic notions of it and turn 'em upside down, but not before giving them a smack upside the head with the psycho stick. Psychotic violence, twisted love, and genuinely creepy characters are par for the course in Miike's world, and that's only his protagonists. (Most of his anti-heroes end up in a bloody sack by film's end; either that or they simply explode, either mentally or physically.) Katakuris, then, is something of a departure for the man, seeing as how it's chock-full of robust romance, family values, and -- we kid you not -- everything-and-the-kitchen-sink musical numbers. Granted, everyone seems to be busting loose about all the corpses that keep piling up, but still, you've got to admire the guy for trying. After all, it's not every day you come across a magical mayhem tour like this one. It begins, fittingly enough, with a young girl eating a bowl of food, and quickly (instantly, actually) becomes something altogether more arcane when a bizarre, stop-motion demon inexplicably jumps down her throat and rips out her uvula. She shrieks “My uvula!”, as people are wont to do in such cases, but what this has to do with the rest of Miike's story is anyone's guess. Neither the girl nor the demon-thing make any reappearance for the rest of the film. Sawada (Hiruko, the Goblin) plays Masao, the head of a sprawling family in rural Japan who's recently lost his job and is seeking comfort by opening up a remotely located bed and breakfast with his family. As he says repeatedly, it's his dream, and alongside his wife Terue (Matsuzaka), son Masayuki (Takeda), and daughter Shinzue (Nishida), he struggles to keep things afloat as guests trickle in. Situated at the base of a mountain and surrounded by gorgeous forests, babbling brooks, and the sort of wildlife that makes nature look like a good idea, Sawada and family barely even blink as guests check in and promptly die, either by killing themselves or by being offed by others in various unappealing ways. A sumo stops in for a quick rendezvous with his underage girlfriend and immediately expires on her, necessitating a family discussion about how best to move a 400-pound corpse. Finally we know where Death goes when he takes a holiday. As if that weren't odd enough, Miike's film is a musical, with the bewildered and bewildering clan breaking into song at the drop of a bludgeon. Rodgers & Hammerstein have nothing to be afraid of, but audiences are likely to be left laughing at all the wrong places, not that you can discern where the right places might be. Miike's camera lingers on the whole bloody mess with a loving eye, and while this is ultimately a crazy meditation on family values and the like, it's still mind-bogglingly goofy filmmaking, at once deeply moving and deeply annoying.

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