It is a sad fact that many people who love Takashi Miike films love the director not for his unique insight, his playful narratives, his genre busting, or his quirky sense of humour but for the visceral stomp that Miike has shown himself to be more than capable of providing.
I say this is a sad fact as in many ways one of the finest talents to have emerged from Japan is often times viewed as car crash movie making. His films seen as macabre theatres of blood, gore and general grossness. This is a real shame, as there are very few Miike films that dont have something to say beyond the blood, semen and eviscerated guts.
The Happiness of the Katakuris in many ways has been his best received film over in Europe. Picking up plaudits that his other films missed out on due to their grotesque nature. It is easy to see why this film got so much attention. When you watch an average Miike film it is like watching a hyperactive David Lynch movie, when he is on form he is transcendental.
Happiness of the Katakuris is actually a remake of a fairly recent Korean film. The original was a dour, painfully unfunny satire about a family who set up a remote guesthouse and find that none of their guests can last the night. Faced with a growing number of corpses the family begin burying them out in the surrounding wasteland.
Happiness of the Katakuris follows this same basic story structure but charges the rather dull narrative with flashes of intense brilliance. While that may sound hyperbolic there is no denying that a film which starts with a little vignette about a goblin emerging from a bowl of soup, ripping out a girls tonsils, flying off and getting eaten by a crow which itself is mutilated by a steel clawed bear is playing by a whole new rule book.
There is no denying the absurdist charm of the movie especially when faced with characters like Richard Sagawa, played by controversial punk rocker Kiyoshiro Imawano, a half-British half-Japanese member of the US Air Force (no make that the Royal Navy) who is the secret lovechild of Queen Elizabeths younger half sister and whom regularly flies missions over Iraq. Sagawa is the main romantic interest for Shizoue Katakuri and in his limited screen time he directs a grand love song, flies into the air, gets poisoned, hit over the head, dropped off a cliff and much more.
The film is just jam packed with a cheeky exuberance which makes it both hard to take seriously and also unforgettable. The cast of characters is perfect from the determined husband and wife duo who lead the house, to the crotchety old granddad who steals every scene and musical number he appears in. Add to that a menageries of guests that include a singing suicide victim, a peppy schoolgirl and her gigantic sumo boyfriend, and a family who seem doomed from the moment they enter and it is almost impossible to get bored throughout the proceedings.
In the end Happiness of the Katakuris despite all the death, deceit, premature burials and zombie dance numbers is actually a really bright positive movie. It really is the feel good movie that Miike was hired to direct, just done in his own style.