January 22, 2014

Lerman's 14 For '14 Day Thirteen: THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS Reawakens My Love Of Takashi Miike

"Look!  Normal people!"
One night when I was in college, Lerman arrived at my Charles St. apartment with his backpack overflowing with DVDs and he quickly put on a Japanese film called Ichi The Killer.  It's a loose riff on Batman in which a Joker-esque gangster with giant slits cut from the corners of his mouth up to his cheekbones squares off against Ichi, a timid would-be hero dressed all in black.  In the film's opening scene, Ichi stands outside the window of a beautiful woman, watching her undress.  He furiously masturbates and then retreats into the night, leaving a puddle of ejaculate dripping from the leaves of a potted plant.  The bodily fluid quickly puddles and forms into the film's opening title.

This is how I was introduced to Takashi Miike.

Ichi is an incredible film that I've been meaning to revisit for years.  It's tough because it's obviously not a movie for everybody, but Miike had such a strong cinematic voice that I was almost overwhelmed.  I knew right then and there that this was a fascinating director whose work I really wanted to dig into.  And yet, I'm just now realizing that I never really followed up on that plan.  Sure, I've always kept an eye on his films and seen trailers come and go over the years for various Miike projects that looked really interesting, but as I sit here scanning over his prolific filmography (he makes Woody Allen look lazy) I'm now realizing that it's been over ten years since Lerman first thrust Ichi into my life and until now I'd still yet to watch another one of Miike's films.  That seems simply preposterous, yet there it is.

So I'm grateful that Lerman has once again thrown some Miike my way, although I have to say that The Happiness Of The Katakuris probably wouldn't have been my first choice.  It's such an absurd mishmash of styles, part going-into-business story, part musical-romance, part crime-drama, part claymation gorefest.  In a weird, abstract way, think Batteries Not Included meets Grease meets Fargo meets Mr. Bill.  And yet, that doesn't even begin to describe everything that's going on here.

On the surface is the story of the Katakuri family, which has built a bed & breakfast out in the wilderness based on the promise that the government will soon be building a nearby road, thus turning the area into a tourist destination.  But in the meantime, the charming hotel remains empty and the family is facing bankruptcy, that is until a mysterious stranger arrives in the middle of the night in search of a room.  The Katakuris are overjoyed until their very first guest turns up dead in the morning and they're forced to hide the body before word gets out and the B&B's reputation is destroyed before they can even get off the ground.  Soon new guests arrive and the mortality rate continues to rise, all while the Katakuris' eldest daughter gets romantically entangled with a charming criminal posing as an American secret agent/member of the British Royal Family.  And let's not forget all of the of incredibly over the top musical numbers, often times smashing onto the screen like the Kool-Aid Man in the most unexpected and grotesque of situations, particularly one song featuring a chorus of dismembered corpses.  As if that doesn't sound absurd enough, we're also treated to a handful of scenes which play out as totally bonkers claymation, including the film's completely insane and non-sequiter opening sequence and the finale in which a quietly omni-present volcano finally erupts.  These sequences would typically demand heavy effects or green screen work, and since the film was released in 2001 it's not as if digital effects were completely out of the question.  Was this a budgetary issue or a style choice?  I honestly couldn't tell you, but either way the shit just WORKS.

There's so, so much more going on here, but it's easy to see why The Happiness Of The Katakuris isn't most people's cup of tea.  I honestly don't know how often I'll find myself rewatching this one, but at the very least it's renewed my excitement in the singular work of Takashi Miike, which only makes the recent news of the disintegration of his English-language, WWII-era Yakuza film starring Tom Hardy all the more depressing.  Ah well.  Bring on Audition.

What's The Connection?  As you may have already realized, the basic plots of Little Shop and Katakuris are remarkably similar, with a failing business suddenly finding success while simultaneously racking up an impressive body count.  Hell, both plots are set in motion a complete eclipse of the sun.

Up Next: Taxidermia

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Title: The Happiness Of The Katakuris
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tanba, Naoto Takenaka
Year Of Release: 2001
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD