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The Happiness of the Katakuris DVD Review

The Happiness of the Katakuris

September 1, 2002

Director: Takashi Miike, ,
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiki Arizono, Chihiro Asakawa, Masahiro Asakawa, Moeko Ezawa, Akiko Hatakeyama, Yumeki Kanazawa, Maro, Aya Meguro, Yuka Nakatani, Miho Sawada, Tokitoshi Shiota, ,

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DVD Review

Rising star Takashi Miike puts a new spin on the modern musical, with suicide and dancing corpses amidst the romance and comedy.

Known for his excessively gory films, it was something of an odd choice to announce his next project was a light-hearted musical that nonetheless incorporated elements of his darker work. Miike has always been one to take genres in a new direction, blending them seemingly at random. In Audition he mixed a simple romantic drama with bone-chilling horror. In The Happiness of the Katakuris, this is perhaps his most auspicious film to date. A musical about death? Surely it would fall flat on its face?

Not so.

What we have here is something of an oddity to watch in western society: a film where the director actually calls the shots instead of the studio. A film so imaginitive and, indeed, insane, with elements of clay-mation and CGI, that it would never even be considered in Hollywood, where money talks and creativity walks.

The Katakuri family have moved into a remote region near a volcano to set up a guest house after learning a new road is to be constructed nearby and a business opportunity is to be had. At the same time, father Masao wants to keep his family together after son Masayuki gets in financial trouble. His dream is to have his family under one roof and for them to work together. Unfortunately, no guests seem to be around, and Masao starts to wonder if he made the right choice in moving to the country. His daughter Shizue is a hopeless romantic who wants to find her little girl a new father, and Grandpa takes a personal dislike to the crows in the neighbourhood.

Just as things are looking bad, a guest finally arrives and the family attend to his every wish. Unfortunately he commits suicide and, after a hilarious dance number that has to be seen to be believed, Masao decides to bury the body instead of calling the police and putting an end to his guest house. But this is just the start of the bad luck.

Miike admits the film is basically a spoof of an almost identical film The Quiet Family from 1998, which was itself a black comedy, but with The Happiness of the Katakuris he adds his own bonkers spin on the story, adding new characters, songs and animation. If Audition was his dark vision of death, this film shows the lighter side. It’s silly, scary, funny, weird, endearing and will make you want to dance around the house after you’ve finished watching it. It runs out of steam toward the end, but otherwise this is exceptional stuff. This is what cinema should be about: trying something completely new.

Special Features:

First off I have to say what an appalling transfer this film has. It’s possibly the worst I’ve ever seen, with parts that are literally unviewable with distortion. Thankfully it’s such a great film that you hardly notice these occassional flickers in quality.

The extras are surprisingly good for an arthouse Japanese film: There are filmographies, trailers for other Takashi Miike films (he made more films in 2001 than Terrence Malick has in the past twenty years), interviews with the cast, a making of documentary that shows Miike as being a playful director who enjoys acting out scenes for the actors, a section about the claymation sequences and best of all: a director’s commentary. Miike modestly takes the mickey out of his own film and admits that some things make absolutely no sense, whilst comparing the cast to Hollywood stars. “Naomi is the Japanese Meg Ryan,” he chuckles.

An essential purchase.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 85%

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