Sunday, 21 June 2015

the happiness of the katakuris

if you've never heard of takashi miike or seen a takashi miike film before, the happiness of the katakuris is a good place to start. to put it into perspective, imagine if a filmmaker known for the violence and gore in his work, someone like eli roth for example, made a comedy-musical with animated sequences. that's kind of what the happiness of the katakuris is, except only takashi miike could make something this insane.
the film follows the katakuri family as they follow their patriarch, maseo, into a bold new business venture running a guesthouse in a remote area of the countryside. business does not go well, and when they do receive guests they have a tendency to die in bizarre circumstances. maseo and the others are forced to bury the bodies in order to save the reputation of the guesthouse, although what's really at stake is the integrity of their family unit.

that synopsis makes the happiness of the katakuris sound like a straightforward, run-of-the-mill black comedy, and that version actually exists in the form of the quiet family, a 1998 south korean film starring oldboy himself, min-sik choi. the quiet family is a solid, well-made film with a great concept and it's easy to see why there was a decision to remake it. but in handing directing duties to takashi miike, the producers ensured that this remake would become far more infamous than its predecessor.

the film opens with a fairy-like creature emerging from a bowl of soup, ripping out the uvula of the poor woman eating the soup then flying away until the creature itself is eaten by an animated crow. the creature is reborn, then eaten again and the sequence ends with the crow being struck down by a stick thrown by the grandfather katakuri. this is how we are introduced to the katakuris, but while it may seem completely random and insane it actually summarises one of the main themes of the film quite efficiently. this is a film about the cycle of life - we live, stuff happens, we die and then it all starts again. it's not unusual to open a film with a visual image that establishes the central theme, it's just that takashi miike chooses to do it with an animated sequence about an odd creature born out of soup.

then there are the musical numbers. the happiness of the katakuris follows the rules of the traditional musical in that when the characters are unable to express their emotions through words, they turn to song. and dance. and over-the-top set pieces with pop-video graphics, zombies and sometimes karaoke-style lyrics across the bottom of the screen so you can sing along (if you can read japanese, which i unfortunately can't). the songs are cheesy, on-the-nose and kind of intentionally dreadful, but at the same time it's difficult not to smile every time the characters start to sing.

the title of the film is perfect, because this is a film infused with happiness in spite of its macabre subject matter. it's a film about the joy of being alive despite all the things that go wrong, and there's something about the vivacious enthusiasm with which miike and the cast tackle this theme that is infectious. the ending would seem out of place and cliched in any other film, but here it's kind of beautiful and almost had me in tears. there is creativity and innovation in every frame, and thus the filmmaking style successfully matches the life-affirming themes of the film.

the blu-ray comes with a number of extras that also came with the original tartan dvd release but also includes a new 40-minute interview with takashi miike and a visual essay by miike expert tom mes. the film looks amazing too and has a timeless quality as a result.

if you've seen it before, you know what you're in for and this blu-ray edition is an essential purchase. if you haven't seen it before, why are you still reading this? you need to be watching the happiness of the katakuris right now because i guarantee you will have never seen anything like it before.

the happiness of the katakuris will be released on blu-ray by arrow video on 22nd of june


  1. This film is indeed beautifully batshit:) but "Ichi", "Gozu" and "Visitor Q" are much more solid offerings. I don't rate "Fudoh - The Next Generation" even with the vag dart it's kind of terminally slow moving:p

  2. thanks for checking out my blog! ichi the killer is probably my favourite, although gozu is cool too. i also really like izo, and the masters of horror episode he did was pretty amazing.

    1. Ichi is my favorite too:) It's tone of real/ridiculous/loud/quiet from one scene to the next is the inspiration for the feature film I'm developing. And oh God yes, his sequence for Master for Horror was intense (And heavily cut in the American release from memory) especially the suspension torture scene.