Blu-ray Review – The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

Cover art for the 2015 Arrow Films Blu-ray release of The Happiness of the Katakuris

Genre: Horror/Comedy
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 22nd June 2015
Runtime: 113 minutes
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Kikumi Yamagishi
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Tetsurō Tamba, Kiyoshiro Imawano 
Synopsis: A family is tested when visitors to their guest house start dying suddenly.

 

 

Japanese provocateur Takashi Miike isn’t known for pulling punches. His most famous films, Audition and Ichi the Killer, are violent tales of brutal people told in a manner that’s designed to shock and thrill. The Happiness of the Katakuris, though, is something different – a surreal story that combines the world of the musical with comedy and horror.

The Happiness of the Katakuris, in all of its bizarre glory, is now available for the first time on UK Blu-ray, via Arrow Films.

Masao Katakuri (Kenji Sawada) runs a secluded guest house with his wife Terue (Keiko Matsuzaka) and father Jinpei (Tetsurō Tamba). They also employ Masao’s daughter Shizue (Naomi Nishida) and ex-con son Masayuki (Shinji Takeda). When visitors to their guest house start dying, they decide to cover it up. A further complication arrives with Shizue’s charismatic new beau Richard (Kiyoshiro Imawano) – a naval man who claims to be related to British royalty.

| "My nose isn’t bleeding because I’m horny. The blood is rushing to enhance my critical faculties."

Put simply, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a bonkers ride from start to finish. Director Takashi Miike conjures a dark, dreamlike hyperreality in which everything occasionally lurches into claymation and Night of the Living Dead crosses paths with The Sound of Music. It’s as if the film is two hours of three or four different, hyperactive ideas battling for attention. It shouldn’t work, but Miike throws it all together with such demented enthusiasm that it’s difficult not to get swept up in it all.

It helps that the cast embrace the spirit in which the film is intended. No one involved in The Happiness of the Katakuris is going to win an Oscar, but there’s plenty of fun on show. The song and dance numbers have more than a hint of a disastrous X Factor audition about themKenji Sawada does wide-eyed shock beautifully and Kiyoshiro Imawano is ludicrous, but entertaining, as a flirtatious con man in military garb.

Despite its horror influences, the film is rather subdued in terms of bloodshed, particularly given the omnipresence of arterial spray in Miike’s filmography. With the exception of a few flourishes, The Happiness of the Katakuris is more interested in the aftermath of violence than the act itself. Unusually, Miike is more likely to cut to music than murder.

| "By order of Queen Elizabeth, give me your mobile phone number."

That’s not to say that The Happiness of the Katakuris is a perfect film, or even a particularly great one. At almost two hours long, it’s a bit of a slog to deal with the oddball tone and uneven pacing. There are a few too many near-identical musical numbers and the shifts into claymation seem almost entirely random.

However, complete with all of its flawed nonsense, this is a psychedelic must-see from Japan’s premier auteur.

 

Special Features

Extras include an audio commentary with Miike, a new interview with him and a documentary on the film’s production. There’s also a commentary from Miike biographer Tom Mes, who also provides a video essay on the director’s work. The stop motion effects of the film are spotlighted in a featurette.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

It’s rough around the edges, a total mess and fails to realise any of its plot turns, but The Happiness of the Katakuris is still a remarkable experience.

The performances are variable and the direction navigates at least three different tones, but this is a pure shot of cinematic craziness from Takashi Miike.

It’s not a film that will appeal to everyone and it often feels like a strange dream more than a conventional movie. But you’ll certainly have never seen anything like this before and you probably won’t again.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

The Happiness of the Katakuris is available on Blu-ray from today courtesy of Arrow Films.

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