The Happiness of the Katakuris

Paul Yim Paul Yim: (paulyim-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-11-22 02:00:59

The Happiness of the Katakuris - Rank A


Takashi Miike is Japan's most prolific modern filmmaker. He's been directing his own movies since 1991 and he has seventy-eight, and counting, under his belt. Spielberg, who's been directing his own movies since 1959, has fifty to his credit by comparison. That's only twenty-eight more, but making twenty-eight more movies isn't like making twenty-eight more pies. Consider that, on average, each movie costs approximately anywhere from fifty to one hundred million dollars to make and takes an average of six to ten weeks to shoot. Miike-san runs the gamut of film variety as well. He's done the requisite Yakuza movies, both bombastic and introspective, anime/manga to film adaptations, horror, drama, samurai, TV, straight-to-video, and musicals. Well, "musical" actually – I only know of one that he's done and that would be The Happiness of the Katakuris.

By "musical", I only mean that the actors break into impromptu song and dance numbers. The comparison ends there with Miike, because he infuses his own brand of bizarre logic and preternatural context into the movie that leaves you thinking, "If David Lynch made a musical, this would be it." The result is a veritable laugh riot. There are walking dead dancing and singing about the importance of family values, a naval officer takes to the air as he professes his love in stilted Japanese, and the movie doesn't really begin until a woman screams, "MY UVULA!!"

As is the case with good filmmakers, Miike is able to showcase not only the singing talent of his cast, but the pathos in their acting. The film really is about the nuclear family and the dangers they face in the modern world. The setting is perfect for this, because the Katakuri family is trying to run a bed-and-breakfast at the foot of an active volcano out in the middle of nowhere. They are free of worldly worries but the family is ready to come apart at the seams. Matters become infinitely more complicated when their first guest arrives.

The film, in true Miike style, throws convention out the window. Don't get me wrong; it's no Gozu or Visitor Q by any stretch, but he does manage to incorporate his unique vision into his shots. There's a sequence, for instance, where the family is going up the mountain to bury a body. There are a million and one different ways to shoot such a scene, but Miike decided to give it a Noh twist by having his actors synchronized to a silent beat. It's simultaneously playful and dreadful as hell.

Miike is not for everyone. I am not saying this to be snobby or to sound like one of those pseudo-cinephiles. He is not for everyone and he is definitely not for children. Incest, homoerotic sex, copious amounts of bodily fluids, necrophilia, hardcore gun and knife violence, rape, pedophilia, and oodles of breast milk are some of the fun things you'll see in a Takashi Miike movie. Thankfully (or unfortunately, depending on your preference) you'll find little of that in The Happiness of the Katakuris. Just look at the title! It's about a family fighting for happiness…together.

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