THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS
Katakuri-ke no Koufuku : Japan 2001 : Takashi Miike : 113 mins
The insanely prolific Takashi Miike may not be the most talented director currently operating in world cinema (though that’s debatable) but he’s easily one of the most entertaining. Katakuris has been billed as a horror musical, but the horror is fairly incidental and low-key, and comparisons with Dawn of the Dead are misleading: zombies pop up only briefly in fantasy sequences. Its really a comedy with songs but this dry description does little justice to a genuinely crazy, deliriously enjoyable blast of a film that makes Moulin Rouge and Dancer in the Dark look like level-headed models of convention and restraint. Of course, this isn’t a serious musical by any means, but neither are many classic examples of the genre: check out the delicious self-parody that powers Busby Berkeleys Gold Diggers of 1933.
Scriptwriter Kikumi Yamaguishi pinches his basic plot from a little-seen 1998 dark comedy, The Quiet Family: the Katakuris are an irrepressibly optimistic bunch of city-dwellers who relocate to the remote countryside, where they open a hotel. The extended familys optimism and energy seem boundless – which is just as well, as their first few guests all drop inconveniently dead: the hotel is like a cross between Fawlty Towers and The Shinings Overlook. But Miike isn’t much interested in the flimsy plot its just a handy launchpad for him to spiral off into his own bizarre universe of absurdist, deadpan extremity, much closer to Ichi the Killer than to the uncharacteristic restraint of Audition, though nowhere near as bloodthirsty as either of those gore-a-thons.
Anyone who only knows Miike from such gruelling pictures may be amazed to hear that Katakuris is one of the most infectiously joyous and positive films imaginable were thankfully a world away from the Disney vision of a happy family, but the Katakuris bonds are surprisingly believable and touching. And is it going too far to see the hotel – where teamwork and respect for elders are guiding principles, battling with persistent ghosts of the past – as some kind of a distorted vision of modern Japan, ploughing indefatigably on after a 20th century of daunting adversity?
Miike chucks so much into the mix, its hard to imagine what he left out if anything. There are, inevitably, some dips along the way but its remarkable how long he’s able to maintain his initial burst of comic energy: the pace seldom flags, making the 113 minute running-time positively fly by. And, crucially, Miike delivers the goods in an apocalyptic but upbeat finale where, as with many of the films set-pieces, he avoids splashing out on pricey special effects by switching over to cheesy clay-mation. The effect is undeniably rough-edged, but delightfully so, and its worth the price of admission alone to see a fluffily animated version of the Katakuris cute dog Pochi surfing down a wave of lava, before Mr Katakuri steps in for a daredevil rescue.
August 21st, 2002
(seen 18th, Filmhouse Edinburgh Edinburgh Film Festival)
For all the reviews from the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival click here.
Have a look at our Takashi Miike Director’s Lounge
by Neil Young