The Happiness Of The Katakuris (Cert 15)
2 Discs Blu-ray/DVD Combo (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 113 minutes approx.
I’ve often wondered had Freud still been alive today and had prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike on his couch, would the great neurologist have quit his job there and then? Because whatever goes on in Miike’s head would take a lifetime and beyond to unravel!
Having dabbled in just about every style and genre of film, it is hard to imagine that Miike could still surprise us; coming into this new HD re-issue of his 2001 macabre musical black comedy as a first time viewer, Mike does indeed still have the power to catch us unaware with his whacky and subversive ideas.
The eponymous Katakuris are a family of perennial losers – Masao (Kenji Sawada), wife Terue (Keiko Matsuzaka), his father Jinpei (Tetsurō Tamba), ex-criminal son Masayuki (Shinji Takeda), divorced daughter Shizue (Naomi Nishida) and her child Yurie (Tamaki Miyazaki). With Masao’s redundancy money they bought a small guest house near Mount Fuji, hoping a proposed new road extension will bring in passing trade. However the extension is continually delayed thus they have no guests.
When one finally shows up, he is a naked TV reporter (Naoto Takenaka) who is then found dead the next morning, having been stabbed in the neck with his room key. Fearing no-one would believe it was suicide, Masao suggests they bury the body in the woods by the river. Later that day an unfit sumo wrestler (Takashi Matsuzaki) and his underage girlfriend (Chihiro Asakawa) show up looking for some privacy. The next morning the pair are found dead and again the bodies are buried, but the family are starting to wonder if their business is cursed.
The story sounds like prime Miike but this is in fact a remake of the 1998 Korean comedy horror The Quiet Family, given an esoteric and bespoke make over by Japan’s enfant terrible of cinema. As if there was any concern of what that would entail, the film opens with a young woman in a restaurant finding a small imp-like creature in her soup. The scene suddenly turns to claymation and as the girl screams, the imp reaches into her mouth, rips out her uvula and flies away with it!
And it gets weirder as it goes on but then you probably already knew that. 2013’s For Love’s Sake attracted a lot of attention for being a musical but this was Miike’s first stab at the genre, combining Bollywood spontaneity with traditional Japanese sensibilities and a cheeky J-Pop flare. Possibly the funniest aspect – meant in the nicest way – of these moments, aside from the absurdity of the cast singing about burying bodies, is watching young Tamaki Miyazaki trying to keep up with her elders. Too cute!
While the Korean version runs in a linear direction Miike discards such petty conventions, as you might expect him to, throwing in his own divergence from the original story. This comes in the form of a lover for Shizue, a US naval officer named Richard (Kiyoshiro Imawano) who also claims to be our Queen’s nephew! So smitten is Shizue she swallows this wholesale despite Richard being 100% Japanese! He also almost uncovers the family’s illicit burial service which puts him in an awkward position.
This subplot regrettably brings the film’s pace to bit of halt midway through the run, when Richard goes on a musical journey to woo Shizue, coming as it does after Masao and Terue hit us with a five minute duet declaring their love for each other. Combining Enka with cheesy cabaret pop this is visually fun but outstays it welcome. This one-two punch of musical numbers signals a turning point for the film, from which it sadly doesn’t quite recover.
Don’t take that as too harsh a critique as there is still some fun to be found in the second half, but as we have found with Miike, he has a tendency to lose focus and often roams aimlessly towards the finish line. For all its promise, it is a little disappointing that Katakuris should suffer this fate, although I am sure dedicated Miike fans will disagree.
Being such a renowned maverick who moves with the times Miike isn’t shy about experimenting with the latest techniques and gimmicks, as we see here with the use of CGI for smaller things which has since become the norm. This allows the musical numbers to wander off into different physical spaces if needed with fluidity as opposed to jump cuts, but the joy is how this is juxtaposed with old fashioned claymation which also isn’t immune to some unique Miike touches.
One thing we can rely on at least is the trenchant jet black humour to maintain its bite throughout which it does, with delicious broad strokes and unfettered embracing of the quirkier side of this already absurd situation. In that respect it is only the pacing and prolonging of some of the lesser elements and subplots that stands in the way of this being a fully satisfying film, although there is a plenty to enjoy and admire about it.
Even having been superseded by modern day films of this type which rely fully on CGI, there is still much on offer here to make this feel like a fresh experience, and the stunning new HD transfer ensures that its fourteen year existence doesn’t feel possible, a treat for returning fans I am sure.
Anyone who is familiar with Miike will know that his works are an acquired taste and not all of his films will meet with the same reception from any two people. For this writer The Happiness Of The Katakuris is a lot of fun, very creative and wonderfully irreverent but loses its mojo half way through, and struggles to get it back by the end. But I can appreciate its appeal for others. It’s certainly an unforgettable experience however and this new HD release is part of a superb and worthwhile presentation for the Miike faithful.
New High Definition 1080p Digital Film Transfer
Original Uncompressed Stereo PCM Audio
Audio commentary by Director Takashi Miike
The Making Of The Katakuris
Interviews With The Cast and Director Takashi Miike
Animating The Katakuris
40 Page Booklet
Rating – ****
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