Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There Will Be Jazz Hands

Takashei Miike has over 80 directing credits on his IMDB resume, yet embarrassingly enough, I've seen three including today’s review. What I realized after watching The Happiness of the Katakuris is that, while I don’t hold this or the infamous Audition to be perfect, both demonstrate that Miike is a director in the truest sense of the word, with a strong point of view and a great control over tone. Compare the slow, creepingly haunting feel of Audition with the jubilant, quirky joy of The Katakuris and you have a prime example of distinctly different, yet equally well-executed films unlike any other.
Quick Plot: The Katakuris, a somewhat dysfunctional Japanese family, are trying to make a living running a hotel located near what is supposed to eventually be a major highway. Business is tough, but their personal lives are much worse: father is struggling to build a new life after being laid off, mother is trying to help, son Masayuki is a recent ex-con, daughter Shizue falls in love too easily, and grandfather is exasperated and aging. Only the adorably narrating Yurie, Shizue’s 4ish year old daughter, seems to be enjoying the Katakuri company.

Things get exciting when the Katakuris’ first paying customer arrives in the form of a rained-on depressive, who follows a lonely song of longing (fitting the perfect “I Wish...” mold of current musical theater) and promptly commits suicide. Knowing that a chalky outline on their newly treated floors may hurt business, the Katakuris agree--in song and interpretive dance!--to bury the corpse and move on. Next to visit is a horny skinny sumo wrestler and his giggly girlfriend, both of whom meet their end in a sexual accident (not the worst way to go I suppose). 
Ever so slowly, life starts to shine a little brighter for the Katakuris, occasionally dimmed by the mortal motel renter. Shizue falls in love with a traveling con man in grand Bollywood style and parents Masao and Terue sing of their love in a complete karaoke-ready number (disco ball, floating effects, and follow-the-lyrics included). A few dramatic snares cause a little more trouble: a rumble between Shizue’s beloved and the Katakuri grandfather turns to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse-like claymation, road construction leads a toiling dig-up and incredible zombie dance, and a violent fugitive puts the Katakuris in actual danger. 

If there’s one fault to The Happiness of the Katakuris, it’s that the plot is both the least interesting thing in the film and the one aspect given the least attention. There’s no driving throughline to lead us into the climax, and even when we get through what feels like a dramatic finale, another even wackier storyline gets thrown in.
That being said, this is one of the most cheerful and warm films I’ve seen in some time. The fact that it happens to involve man-eating goblins and an undead kickline is really just gravy.

High Points
It’s wonderfully refreshing to see such a warm and love-filled marriage between the two middle aged parents

While some songs are better than others, one nice Miike touch is how each character retains his or her own style during the choreography

One especially humorous scene featuring Japan’s most unhealthy family had me laughing hysterically
Low Points
We never really get to know enough about the hotheaded Masayuki which is a shame since actor Shinji Takeda has such a strong presence
The ending isn't awful, but it comes rather suddenly, especially when the entire film never seems to have a plot plan 
Lessons Learned
Whether you’re goblin, cow, or uvula, there’s always something bigger to come and eat you 
One does not require a uvula to scream “My uvula!”

It’s really fun to say the word “uvula”

Stews are full of goodness
Not surprisingly, zombies are decent enough at dance steps but do have serious, in the late Patrick Swayze’s words, “spaghetti arms”
Being dead, handcuffed, or trapped in lava is no reason to not dance

If you’re in the mood for a musical version of Little Miss Sunshine mixed with with the Chiodo Brothers pitching in for special effects, then this is the film for you. While it is a remake of an earlier Korean film, its originality and bright spirit make it a unique, cheerful, and occasionally macabre movie unlike any other. The DVD includes ample extras featuring the very enthusiastic cast, so I would definitely endorse a buy, followed by a karaoke performance of your favorite song. With all the work I do for you, that’s really not a lot to ask.


  1. I Heart this film so much. Really it's the only Miike film I do. I can't get into Ichi, Audition does it's job too well for me, I admire it but can't really love something that gave me a panic attack. Fudoh's fun, but not one I'm passionate about.

    Still my favorite thing Takashi Miike ever did was his cameo in Hostel. I might not think much of the movie (in truth I prefer the sequel) but I love the fact that according to the credits he's just playing "Takashi Miike", like he just happend to be at the torture factory and Roth was there and Miike was like, "Well why not share my hobby with the world."

  2. I never realized he was credited as himself! That is perfect. I agree and prefer Hostel II. It's much funnier, has characters that are actually likable, and digs much deeper into the satire and subtext of who would want to participate in human torture.

  3. I've seen about ten or fifteen of Miike's movies, and that's not even a dent in his resume! He is a mixed bag as far as the quality of his films go, but I am still a big fan either way due to his stronger work.

    Happiness is one that has escaped me, unfortunately, but I have always wanted to check it out. Your review brought it back into the spotlight for me, so thanks for picking it!

  4. Matt, I think you'd get a kick out of Happiness. It's not a masterpiece due to its lack of a story, but it's such a joyful and creative movie that it's hard to resist. Plus, karaoke!