Takashi Miike films will always have an underlying theme pertinent to the flow of society, poignant, regardless of the global location it’s viewed in. In some movies, such as Ichi the Killer, the meaning is a bit difficult to decipher. Others, like the Happiness of the Katakuris, smack you in the face like a wet fish. Happiness drives home the point that family, above all else, is the most important unit in societal function. Furthermore, Happiness endorses the notion that abandoning one’s family will only result in despair, as evidenced by specific character situations in the movie. But don’t let the importance of these issues weigh down the enjoyment of the movie. The Happiness of the Katakuris is an infectious black comedy, which continuously entertains, no matter the message conveyed.
In true Miike style, all logic and comfort are thrown out the window within the first 30 minutes, as we are introduced to the Katakuris, a three generation family running a bed and breakfast at the base of a dormant volcano, through a series of cynical claymations depicting the regurgitation of life and death. Introductions to each character in the family are made with a detailed description of each person’s past, as well as why they ended up at the bed and breakfast. Much like the makeup of a sitcom, the Katakuris are composed of the crazy grandfather, the stoic mother, enthusiastic father, down on their luck mother and daughter, and con artist son. The interaction of the family spells out dysfunctional with a capital “D”, the children blaming each other for their respective failures in life while the parents struggle to keep the unit together. Happiness is an easier movie to stomach than previous Miike movies, comedy is used to alter the delivery of death in the movie as a sequence of guests meet their untimely ends in very precarious ways. The first guest carves a crude knife out of the room keychain and plants it right in his own jugular. The second set of guests, a sumo size guy and his petite girlfriend meet their demise when the larger has a heart attack while blowing his load. His chick gets smothered under his girth and suffocates.
I really enjoyed Miike’s comical take on tragedy, utilizing the family in song and dance as a device for dealing with unfortunate situations. It was like watching the Sound of Music on acid, where all conventional forms of dealing with the somber circumstance of life are whisked away in the form of melodic transgression. Quite possibly the most entertaining sequence in the movie was when the down on her luck Terue performed a Sonny & Cher duet with her “love at first sight” beau, Richard Sawada. A well choreographed scene, the two seemed as though they were Vegas performers, pulling off moves that had me hysterical laughing and amazed at the same time. The other scene that sticks in my mind was when the Katakuris discover that their first guest committed suicide in his room. The song and dance when they stumble upon the body was reminiscent of a horrible grade school performance, entertaining, yet at the same time bringing back the annoying chants of “users are losers!” and “There’s no hope in dope!”
For a low budget venture, Happiness sports an impressive array of special effects, capped by the one of the end scenes, where the dead arise to join in a piece celebrating the success of a family unit. Goiters, blood spurts, facial decomposition and good ol’ zombie gore were very nicely rendered.
By the end credits, I was pretty much sold that Miike is indeed one of the greatest directors of all time. Utilizing unconventional methods and often uncomfortable situations, he is able to convey vital and positive messages through his films. It’s the juxtaposition of shock value Vs. moral value that turn some people off from his films, however, in this author’s opinion, sometimes a little trauma is worth it when you find that the lesson learned is greater than the offense taken.
Unfortunately, it was quite disappointing to find that while the movie was solid in every aspect of entertainment, plot and acting, the disc itself was sorely lacking the ammunition to give this flick a solid 5 skull rating. A dismal trailer option was all that was offered, an unfortunate bearing for a stellar movie. This surprises me because the majority of the Miike DVDs that I’ve seen are loaded with special features, a just due to the viewer that desires to continue exploring this mastermind’s masterpieces.
With all luck, Happiness will ride the wave of Miike’s success onto a praiseworthy American distributor’s disc with the special features it deserves. I think Media Blasters should be notified that we, the viewers, want to see some blooper reels, choreography sessions and definitely the auditions of this incredible cast. And why am I the only asshole that gets stuck with a Region 1 issue of Visitor Q with no fucking subtitles?! It just goes to show you kids, sometimes praise doesn’t pay.