I like weird. And I like cinema. So no great surprise that I enjoy oddball, crazy, mess-with-your-head movies. Don’t get me wrong, I like all flavours of film and am perfectly capable of sitting down to the latest Hollywood blockbuster. But it’s that “WTF?” moment that can usually only be found on the subtitled shelves that really gives me my kick.
And when it comes to genre-mashing weirdness, Japan still rules. Sure, you can find Finnish martial arts in Jadesoturi, or overly-rouged Thai cowboys in Tears of the Black Tiger, and Spain’s El Milagro de P.Tinto has to be seen to be believed, but the Land of the Rising Sun is cinematically the Land of No Limits, and no one exemplifies that more than director Takashi Miike.
He’s allegedly made 90+ movies in the last two decades or so (which fact alone deserves some sort of award) covering the bases from horror to comedy to musical to romance to family drama, and that’s just Happiness of the Katakuris.
What follows are five suggestions to drop you in the deep end of TM’s peculiar and unique cinematic universe (although to be fair, they barely scratch the surface of his imagination…)
Ichi the Killer: Banned in Norway, Malaysia and Germany (and edited most everywhere else) Takashi’s adaptation of the popular manga comic is a little violent, to say the least – faces sliced off, a victim cut in two from head to groin, a prisoner suspended from the ceiling by hooks through the flesh of his back, a little deep-frying – it serves as an example of just how far the director is willing to take his vision; which is to say, pretty much as far as he wants.
Audition: Along with Ichi, this is the film that set the foundations for Takashi’s international cult status. The first hour is a touching and gently comedic romance about a widower looking for love, which then descends into vomit-inducing horror as we see just what the object of his desire wants from her new beau. You may never date again.
Visitor Q: The sickest of family dramas, Visitor Q has a potentially heart-warming message at its core. However, to get to that message, you’ll have to wade through incest, drug abuse, voyeurism, necrophilia, and gallons of mother’s milk. It’s also pretty funny.
Sukiyaki Western Django: The latest remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (see Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing for the other two), Sukiyaki takes the story back to Japan while remaining a faithful homage to Leone’s (and others’) spaghetti westerns. Bizarre over the top humour, crazed action sequences, a hammy cameo from Quentin Tarantino, and a largely non-English-speaking cast that learned their English dialogue phonetically; you’ll need the subtitles.
Happiness of the Katakuris: With song and dance (and sing-along) numbers, Claymation sequences, zombies, father-son dynamics, and a volcano, this is still, for my money, Takashi’s strangest work so far. This is a simple story of a family running a country guesthouse in which the guests keep dying. What else can they do but bury the bodies and carry on? Watch out for the elephants and giraffe at the end.
So, Takashi Miike, weird AND stomach churning – popcorn and a barf bag are equally essential.