Happiness Of The Katakuris

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Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Kenji Sawada, Naomi Nishida, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Tetsuro Tamba
Director: Miike Takashi

The rally of the musical genre continues. Japan here contributes its bit, a kind of oriental ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. The kitsch, ramshackle production follows the fortunes of a strange family, the eponymous Katakuris, who open a guesthouse in an obscure part of the country, an area the father of the family optimistically believes will one day be a busy hotspot.

After a few lean weeks customers begin to appear, most of whom have the unfortunate habit of dropping dead, in highly suspicious circumstances. The Katakuris decide to bury the bodies as they struggle to keep their business afloat.

It should here be noted, in this brief plot summary, that as we follow the ups and downs of the family, none of the characters is averse to breaking into song and dance routines as the mood takes them.

THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS soon reveals itself to be a chaotic potpourri of styles and genres. It’s the type of film that seems to be made up on the spot, which the filmmakers have constructed by filming any weird ideas that enter their heads – a fly going up a TV reporters nose, a foetus eating a woman’s tonsils, a troupe of insane women on a spiritual training tour. It’s a way of filmmaking that sometimes works (for example in Jim Jarmusch’s DEAD MAN or in most of David Lynch’s work) but here it doesn’t. For while Jarmusch and Lynch perform miracles with a camera, which more than makes up for any lack of substance in their films, Miike Takashi struggles here. He tries to replicate the slick editing and visual flair of contemporary hits such as AMeLIE and CITY OF GOD, but it all just seems messy and amateurish.

The press notes boast of the quirky way in which live action is mixed with plasticine animation, but any idiot can see that the (shoddy) animation is only used to continue the narrative whenever the action becomes to expensive to film using real actors and locations (for example two characters hanging off a cliff, or a house surfing along a flow of lava). It brought back fond memories of the cost cutting of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, where the sound of clapping coconut shells was utilised to represent horses, rather than spend money on the real thing.

To be fair the film is not totally lacking in merit and to focus on its weak points is to take the film far more seriously than it takes itself. There is a certain appeal in the film’s wild unpredictability, the family of characters are likeable, some of the songs aren’t bad and the offbeat humour did make me laugh occasionally. In fact, the plight of an audacious Japanese chancer, who claimed to be not only a British navy seaman fighting in Iraq but also the bastard son of Queen Elizabeth, had me chuckling repeatedly.

But in the end, the wild mixture of styles (melodrama, musical, comedy, and horror to name but a few) just don’t gel together and I was left scratching my head wondering what it was all meant to be about – a surreal Pythonesque comedy, a melodrama about hope and resilience of the human spirit, an uplifting musical? Perhaps it is a cultural type thing, and however strange this all seems to a western audience, maybe it is the type of film that Orientals lap up.

2 out of 6 stars