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The Happiness of the Katakuris (Takeshi Miike) 2001


Hyper-prolific Japanese shock auteur Takeshi Miike seems to come out with a film every few months, so itís tough to anticipate any of his releases too highly. Still, The Happiness of the Katakuris had me rather excited, since the prospect of melding Miikeís playfully sadistic sensibilities with a cheerful musical format seemed too good to miss. Thankfully, Katakuris doesnít disappoint, except in that it provides pretty much exactly what one would expect from a Miike musical. Like in most of the directorís work, there might be too many good ideas in the film for its own good. Everything is so kinetic that it barely has a chance to register with the audience intellectually (much less emotionally) before another insanely weird wonder is tossed out for them to devour. As a result, his movies often feel like theyíre truly great and visionary during the viewing process, but the moment the credits start to roll, you begin to wonder what it was that had you excited.


There are, however, a few positive side affects to Miikeís frenetic approach that need to be considered. First of all, his films are utterly unpredictable. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, whenever one of his gags doesnít quite work, you never get stressed out, since youíre aware that more wild invention will soon be upon you. Certainly in Katakuris this is the case. There are a few dud bits in this tale of a family that finds togetherness after moving off to run a remote bed and breakfast in the Japanese countryside, but the vast majority of the film astounds you in a way. Even though youíre aware that Miike is frequenting stirring up some form of juvenilia or other to make you giggle, you giggle nonetheless. Here, he uses over the top musical sequences (some with karaoke so you can sing along!), recurrent Claymation action scenes, a few crude jokes about aberrant sexuality, and heart on its sleeve sentimentality to stir you up, and more often than not it works smashingly.


One wonders from time to time if Miike ever has an idea that he doesnít incorporate into his films, but the stream of consciousness vibe that permeates throughout his wilder work feels like a glimpse into the mind of a twisted genius. He creates here for his audience a weird, magical world where weíll accept anything that crops up. In some moments, you think the film might choose a singular direction to follow. For example, in the second musical number, the noise made from grave digging provides the musicís rhythm, creating what feels like a parody Dancer in the Dark, but Miike is far too random here to sustain a spoof. Within two minutes, heís launched into another musical number, this time with a wistful romantic tone thatís wildly different. For better or worse, it never settles down much at all, but perhaps thatís what makes it so endearing. Too much of current world cinema has a pulse thatís barely noticeable to complain about a film that has a heart that beats too rapidly. To those who have only seen his relatively restrained Audition, enjoyment of Katakuris will come with a bit of a learning curve. For those familiar with more of his work, however, this is business as usual, and thereís nothing wrong with that.


* * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman