Sunday, July 5, 2015
THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001) Blu-ray Review
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) d. Takashi Miike (Japan)
Former shoe salesman Masao Katakuri (Kenji Sawada) purchases a bed & breakfast in a remote hiking area in the shadow of Mt. Fuji where a new road is planned to be built and moves his father (Tetsuro Tanba), wife Terue (Keiko Matsuzaka), son Masayuki (Shinji Takeda), daughter Shizue (Naomi Nishida), and granddaughter Yurie (Tamaki Miyazaki) to assist in the running of the vacation establishment. Guests rarely appear, and when they do, they tend to wind up expired in the morning. As they say, friends help you move, but real friends help you move bodies, and as the death toll rises, the dysfunctional family learns to put aside their petty differences and discover the true meaning of joy and unconditional love.
When rising star and noted cinematic bad-boy Miike was approached to do a Japanese-language remake of The Quiet Family, the 1998 black comedy that marked the debut of Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil), he was hardly enthused at the prospect until he hit upon the idea of adding his own distinctive touches… which included stop-motion sequences of the central characters depicted in clay, musical numbers, and dancing zombies! As a result, Katakuris actually surpassed its source material in terms of worldwide recognition, meeting with vibrant critical acclaim and surprising many viewers only familiar with Miike's darker offerings, including Audition, Ichi the Killer, Dead or Alive, and Visitor Q. Not that Katakuris is any less twisted, mind you, but there is an underlying sweetness and warmth throughout that balances the ever-growing body count.
Arrow Video’s recent Blu-ray release is breathtaking in terms of both presentation and overall production value. Not only does the high-definition upgrade deliver the bizarre visuals to the brain like a shot of mainline hallucinogenics, the disc is bursting with supplemental materials to satisfy both longtime Miike fans and newcomers in desperate need of context and explanation of WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST SEE???
The extras kick off with a brand-new 38-minute interview with the prolific director (over 90 films and counting as of this morning) entitled “Violent ’til I Die.” We find Miike in a very thoughtful and introspective mood, delivering measured sentences discussing how the project came to him, his impressions of the original Korean film (“inelegant but filled with the conviction of a new filmmaker”), the fearlessness of the cast (comprised of major stars in the form of Sawada, Matasuzaka, Tanba, and rock star Kiyoshiro Imawano as well as talented newcomers like Takeda and Nishida), the unconventional on-set choreography by Ryohei Kondo, the indifferent reception by Japanese critics and audiences, and the film's vindication as it arrived on the world stage. Miike’s quiet and contemplative manner may seem at odds with his bonkers artistic output, but his sly dry wit shines through as he delivers such classic quotes as “Directors don’t really have a lot to do on a film set, just make decisions and create. […] If you don’t have a special skill set, you should become a film director.”
There’s also a terrific vintage 30-minute making-of with interviews conducted on set with most of the major players as well as how-they-did-that intel for some of the special effects. For those with shorter attention spans, the archival interviews with Miike, Sawada, Matsuzaka, Imawano, Takeda, Nishida, and Tanba will gently ease you in, clocking in at 3-5 minutes apiece. While some of these segments are crudely edited (the Sawada one is notable in this aspect, jump-cutting from him laughing to composed and back again) and the subjects don’t have the opportunity to delve too deeply, we still get a glimpse into their personas behind the heightened onscreen characterizations.
One of the standout elements of Katakuris is Hideki Kimura’s claymation, and the five-minute featurette on how the climactic flood sequence came to be realized is both enlightening and frustrating in its brevity. Inspired by the work of celebrated Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, Kimura’s efforts only amount to six minutes of onscreen time, but they leave a lasting impression.
The 23-minute visual essay, “Dogs, Pimps, and Agitators” is written and directed by Tom Mes, the author of the excellent tomes Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike and Re-Agitator: A Decade of Writing on Takashi Miike. Considering the breadth of his subject’s output, it’s remarkable that Mes is able to distill this prodigious career down to less than half an hour without feeling either rushed or simply a catalog of titles. The author skillfully navigates from his first encounter with the 1999 breakout of Audition (Miike's 35th film, already nine years into his directorial career), and then moves forward and back along the auteur’s CV, giving equal time to his prolific V-Cinema (straight-to-video) era as well as his more celebrated festival-winning offerings.
There are also two audio commentary tracks: one by Mes that allows more time to focus specifically on Katakuris and its place in Miike’s filmography, and a subtitled one from Miike himself, presented in both an English “re-creation” and a subtitled version of the original Japanese track. (I recommend listening to the English while also running the subtitles to note the subtle differences.) The Mes commentary is by far the more informative, while the Miike track, shared with film critic/sometime actor Tokitoshi Shiota (who also plays the first unfortunate Katakuri guest), is jollier and energetic. Both, however, are well worth listening to, providing marvelous context and insight into perhaps the most joyful entry of the millennial J-horror wave.
Theatrical trailer and TV spots round out the extras, with the whole thing wrapped up in a reversible sleeve (featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil) and a booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Johnny Mains and a re-printed interview with Miike conducted by Sean Axmaker, illustrated with original stills.
The Happiness of the Katakuris is available now from Arrow Video and can be ordered from MVD Entertainment HERE: