The Weirdness FLOWS Between Us

To date, Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike (age 56) has directed 97 feature films and video productions. With three features already in post-production, his output so far rounds out to 100. That’s impressive by anyone’s standards, especially since Miike is now considered one of the outstanding directors of his generation.

The Hateful Eight, by contrast, was proudly touted as the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino, his first (Reservoir Dogs) coming in 1992. Tarantino is three years younger than Miike.

My first exposure to Takashi Miike, like many Westerners, was Audition (2001), one of the most effective, chilling, and shocking horror films you might ever want to see. That same year the director carved out seven other films, at least three of which rank right up there with Audition as among his best – Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, and The Happiness of the Katakuris. The latter was my own second Miike film.

Like Audition, the first two films of that trio are extremely graphic and unsettling: typical Miike, you might say. The Happiness of the Katakuris, however, is altogether different — a musical that combines elements of The Sound of Music with black humor, claymation, and dancing zombies. Typical Miike in other words: wildly original and incredibly inventive.

Just released on a region-free Blu-ray/DVD from Arrow Video, a UK distributor of cult, classic, and horror films, The Happiness of the Katakuris features a stunning presentation, supplemented by extensive special features and numerous liner notes from film specialists on Miike and Japanese films in general.

A re-make of sorts of The Quiet Family, a South Korean film made three years earlier, Miike’s film retains the general plot of the original though liberally infused with the director’s own delightfully unhinged imagination. The Katakuris are a family consisting of the patriarch (Tetsuro Tanba), his son Masao and daughter-in-law Terue (Kenji Sawada & Keiko Matsuzaka), their own son Masayuki and daughter Shizue (Shinji Takeda & Naomi Nishida), and the latter’s five-year-old daughter Yurie (the film’s occasional narrator). And we can’t forget the family pooch, named Pochi.

Seeking to bring their troubled family closer both emotionally and financially, Masao buys a house near the foot of Mt. Fuji, transforming it into a bed & breakfast that will hopefully lure plentiful guests once the projected highway is built. Unfortunately, the curiously named “White Lover’s Inn” is located on the site of a toxic dump, the highway plans have been revised, and Mt. Fuji is beginning to rumble ominously.

The film’s opening sequence sets the tone, mood, and style. To the tune of operatic music, finely-wrought doors open into an elegant restaurant, the camera following four blind women making their way to a table. The camera stops on a young woman, eagerly dipping into a bowl of soup only to extract a winged homunculus. As she screams in terror, the visuals switch to claymation, the homunculus eyeing her heart-shaped uvula which appeals to its own hungers, romantic & otherwise. Ripping it out, he flies away, the sequence moving rapidly from one voracious meal ticket to another (a less romantic vision than The Lion King’s “circle of life”) before switching back to live-action as the latest predator is nailed with a well-thrown stick by Grandpa Katakuri, bringing us in contact for the first time with the film’s titular family and their dubious enterprise.

When their first guest inexplicably kills himself, the desperate Katakuris decide to bury him rather than risk the notoriety which would surely ruin their enterprise. Their second guests — a sumo wrestler and his underage groupie — suffer a similar fate after he collapses upon her in the “throes of passion.” The third guest, a con-man (Kiyoshiro Imawano) who has convinced the gullible lovelorn Terue that he is actually Queen Elizabeth’s nephew as well as a British secret agent, soon joins the group.

The burials end up leading to reburials (in the vein of Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry) and finally a dream sequence with the risen zombies in a song and dance routine with the perplexed Katakuris. Indeed, the plot is peppered throughout with spontaneous musical sequences that are as incongruous as they are delightful.

Truly one-of-a-kind, The Happiness of the Katakuris is Takashi Miike’s most unusual, and definitely most quirky, film so far, confirming his status as contemporary film’s wild man and maverick.