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« on: July 30, 2009, 02:07:26 PM »

The Happiness Of The Katakuri's (2001)
Miike Takashi
Rated 15 (UK), R (USA)
Tartan Asia Extreme
Jimmi Campkin

Four Slimes. 

The Characters:-
I'm not going to go with their Japanese names (that I had to look up from IMDB).  Instead, I'll just go by a loose description of their role within the family or (in the case of the guests) their bewildering idiosyncrasies...

Grandpa Katakuri – He used to work in a shoe shop, but after taking redundancy he decides to open a motel in the back end of nowhere and hope that a road is built nearby.  I did feel sorry for him every time he screamed 'WHY DO THEY COME HERE TO DIE?' though.  Particularly after he'd buried his second and third guests.

Grandma Katakuri – She fell in love with Grandpa when he cleaned her shoes using his underwear.  Just goes to show there is literally a woman out there for everyone. 

Divorced Katakuri – The daughter.  She needs a man and she doesn't care who he is or what he does. 

Criminal Katakuri – The son.  He has apparently spent time in prison and has trouble keeping any job.  Whenever something goes missing, everyone turns to look at him.  He's also a hypochondriac.

Toddler Katakuri – The daughter of Divorced Katakuri and probably the most world-weary, cynical toddler you will ever meet. 

Great Grandpa Katakuri – Deadly with a block of wood.  Crows and low flying aircraft, beware!

Richard – He's related to the Queen, he's in the British Royal Navy and the USAF.  He's also a con-man who is unfazed by cholera and can fly (but only when he's pretending to be in love).

The Guests – Some of them were genuinely normal.  It's just a shame that the suicidal man, the horny sumo wrestler and the girl playing the recorder excruciatingly badly had to spoil it all. 

The Spiritualists – They are vaguely dressed up like a stereotypical travelling Mexican band and appear totally at random during several scenes. 

The Policeman – To be honest, I thought he was a postman until he announced himself as Officer.   

The Plot:-
How many of you are interested in a Japanese musical featuring claymation, zombies and a con-man called Richard dressed up like An Officer And A Gentleman

I thought so too. 

Anyway, to the film.  A girl is in a hotel and at dinner, when she dips a spoon into her starter and discovers something slightly larger than a fly in her soup.  It's a small demon.  She holds the thing up by her fork and screams whereupon she instantly turns into clay.  The demon falls in love with her tonsils, rips them out and they turn into a heart-shaped balloon.  The demon then flies out of the window after them and is captured by a crow.  Whilst eating it, one of the demons eyes fall out into the lap of a mutant teddy bear who puts the eye into an empty eye socket of its own and kills the crow that has killed the demon.  We then see the dead crow on a piece of paper floating in the wind which rolls into a ball and turns into an egg.  The egg is picked up by a snake, which is captured by another crow who drops the snake into its nest.  Still with me?  The snake spits out the egg, which turns into another demon and is then eaten by another crow.  The crow flies over a clay landscape before taking a dump onto a clay great-grandfather who turns into a real great-grandfather.  Real great-grandfather throws a stick and whacks the crow out of the air. 

Everything I have told you has absolutely nothing to do with the plot and you will never see that demon again. 

Anyway, to the film.  Again.  The surface to air assault by Great-grandpa Katakuri has been observed by Little Katakuri, a toddler burying her dead goldfish who is our temporary narrator (the girl I mean, not the dead fish).  The Katakuri's are a family running a motel inappropriately named 'White Lovers Guesthouse', an old house bought and restored by Grandpa Katakuri after having to leave his previous career in shoes.  Living with him is his aforementioned father, his wife, a son who can't keep a job, a divorced daughter and her toddler baby.  Business is sadly quiet for the industrious, bickering family mainly due to the motel's location on a back water dirt track.  However, the road is due to be turned into a free-way.  Grandpa Katakuri reasons that once the road is wider, busier and tarmacked, they will have more guests. 

All I will say at this point is: Be careful what you wish for...

It's a dark and stormy night when the family receive a guest.  He seems unusually sullen and ungracious, but the family don't mind – they have a guest!  In his room, he takes a flight around Saturn and ponders his last days.  Nope, I'm not going to explain.  The last person to see him is Criminal Katakuri who gives him an evening beer and is perturbed by his nihilistic questioning.  In the morning, the family find the guest dead with the hotel key jammed in his throat.  The family immediately spring into action – literally – and start rifling through the dead man's possessions for a will; he has no wallet and nothing resembling a will, only a piece of paper with a pornographic drawing on it.  Not content with dancing around his corpse, Grandpa Katakuri takes decisive action.  A death in the motel, he reasons, will bring negative publicity.  With a hop and a skip, they wrap the man in a bag and bury him and his effects at the bottom of the garden. 

Meanwhile, Divorced Katakuri is wandering around a town square bemoaning her single life whilst being tormented by romantic couples when she spots a man absurdly dressed in some sort of naval uniform.  There follows a musical scene that nearly gave me a hernia, whilst he seduces her.  I don't mean they get down and dirty with a five minute knee-trembler – this is Japan remember.  Instead, they sing and dance, he is hung (by his neck..) but she kisses him and he comes to life, all to a beat that made me think kindly of the Copacabana.  That's how bad the tune is, it made me lower my musical standards.  He explains that he is in the US Navy..  no, the British Royal Navy to be precise and is on first name terms with the Queen.  She buys all this, partly because the plot requires her to but mostly because she is desperate. 

Oh, and he's also a member of the British Secret Service as well (I refuse to say British Intelligence because it is a contradiction in terms.)  Is there no end to this (con)-man's talents?

Meanwhile, Grandpa Katakuri is an unhappy man with a troubled conscience and an empty guest-house.  It isn't long before his worries are eased though and two new guests arrive – a sumo wrestler and his young girlfriend looking for a room, or more specifically a set of bed springs to destroy.  Criminal Katakuri takes a ladder up to their room to get a sneaky peak of the rumping pair but is soon punished for his voyeurism by losing his balance.  If you are wondering, the sumo wrestler was on top.  If you can imagine someone's legs poking out from underneath a large motor-home, you have some idea of what this scene looks like. 

Morning breaks and Divorced Katakuri gets a phone call from Richard, who cements his position as a massively inept con-man by using props to try and prove that he is under fire (a tape recorder, lots of shouting and toy planes – no, I don't know why he needs toy aircraft over the phone either).  She believes that he is risking life and limb just to hear her voice and declares her love for him, cementing her position as desperately gullible beyond words.  Upstairs, history repeats itself as another guest winds up as a body.  There follows an angry exchange of ideas about how to dispose of a man who weighs more than a stadium, during which time Divorced Katakuri is roped into their dilemma having missed out on the first guest's death and Great-grandpa Katakuri makes a discovery whilst planning how to move him.  The wrestler appears to have died on the job with the girl suffocating underneath him.  As a way to die, being trapped under a sumo wrestler who has just died during coitus is up there with immolation and drowning. 

Just to make things even worse a local policeman appears on the scene, ostensibly for an innocent reason but his appearance throws the family into panic.  They resolve that the situation has gone too far now and that they must continue to provide a funeral service to every guest who crosses the threshold.  Mr Sumo and his girlfriend join the suicide under the ground.  I can only begin to imagine how long it took to dig that hole. 

No sooner have the family patted the earth flat when they find a group of guests looking for rooms.  Happily, they receive them and celebrate with a song to raise the spirits of the disaffected son who seems to think that their plans are faltering somewhat.  I sympathised totally.  At this point, I'd be thinking about re-branding the guest-house as a morgue, but the Katakuri's are nothing if not tenacious. 

Meanwhile Richard has appeared on the scene, homeless and with gastric problems after drinking from a lake filled with dead animals.  Rampant diarrhoea will never stop a man like Richard from getting what he wants though and he continues in his seduction of Divorced Katakuri.  Grandpa and Grandma Katakuri discuss the location of the bodies and place a small cross on a model of the guest-house and the surrounding land to mark where they are.  It turns out that the construction team will start digging the area soon to prepare for the new road, and so they will have to be moved before they are discovered.  There then follows an absurd song about their love for each other which you are encouraged to sing-a-long with in the same manner as those sing-a-long with Disney DVDs you can buy.  No, I'm not making this up.  I'm not making any of this up.  If I could, I'd be a millionaire writer by now. 

Richard takes Divorced Katakuri out for a walk onto a pile of rubble and confesses that he is actually related to the Queen and that he could've rescued Diana if only he was there.  He wanted to be a painter, but 'Aunty Elizabeth' wouldn't let him.  Richard explains (via the gift of song) that he wants to move to Paris with Divorce, but first he needs money to fly back to England.  There, he will get even more money from Aunty Queen and return rich.  Of course, he has no intention of doing anything like that – he will take the air fare and move onto the next gullible divorcee.  Nothing gets past Great-grandpa Katakuri though.  Suspecting foul play, he follows the couple and interrupts the romantic scene by clocking Richard on the head with his trusty piece of throwing wood; an ashtray falls out of his pocket revealing him to be a thief.  After more gastric problems, there is a fight between Richard and Great-grandpa.  During the fight, Richard gains the upper hand by knocking the old man to the ground, but Divorce decides that blood is thicker than water (although nothing is thicker than herself) and she kicks Richard in the back.  The two men turn into clay and roll off a cliff where they end up hanging from a branch.  There is a tense scene (sort of, it's clay for christ'sake) where Richard and Great-grandpa battle for supremacy, but Divorce comes to the old man's rescue by kicking a stone that falls squarely on Richard's head.  The clay man tumbles into the ravine.  To his death, I hear you cry?  Never make unwise assumptions about this film...

Back in the real world (!) the men have been busy re-burying the bodies.  Grandma Katakuri and Divorce Katakuri are having a frank discussion about men and how Grandma and Grandpa came to be together.  Polishing her shoes with his underwear as it turns out (I bet you never saw that coming).  The mother-daughter bonding is interrupted by Richard, a man with a survival streak that The Evil Dead's Ash would be proud of.  He lives long enough to apologise to the string of women that he's strung along before dying, properly this time.  To be honest, I think they all deserved it for being so utterly stupid.  Whilst searching the body, the deceit is discovered – his uniform is a hired costume and he has the wallet of the first suicide victim.  Richard joins the rest of the dead guests at the bottom of the garden. 

An incoming typhoon heralds the appearance of the next set of unfortunates to inhabit the Hotel Hell – a drenched family, including a small coughing boy and a young girl playing the recorder – badly.  The family are understandably reluctant to let them stay given the mortality rate.  Their fears are heightened when the mother asks for some strong cord, to whit the Katakuri's instinctively hold their necks and then rather recklessly deliver it to them anyway.  With amazing foresight, the family go out the following morning and start digging a hole big enough to fit an entire family! 

The family turn out to be perfectly normal (except for the girl's demented recorder playing) and leave the hotel alive and healthy; the small boy's trousers being held up by the piece of cord they asked for.  Having spent a morning digging a pit for them, Great-grandpa and Criminal Katakuri are understandably relieved.  Relief turns to shock when a man bursts out of the bushes behind them and falls into the hole clutching some flowers.  Despite the man clearly being alive, Great-grandpa still tries to bury him! 

Unfortunately for the family, the recent typhoon has exposed the bodies (don't worry, the man in the grave will be explained shortly).  The Katakuri's accept this setback with a song loosely based on 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life' that the dead guests duly join in with (imagine Thriller, but more Japanese.)  This song easily has the most insane lyrics I have ever read.  I'm not sure if a larger point was lost in translation, but there is something strange about a family declaring that they should be positive whilst dancing with the rotting bodies of four people they unlawfully buried.  A great earth tremor signals the end of the song. 

The chap who ran into the hole wakes up on a bed in the motel.  He turns out to be on the run from the police, who duly arrive at the motel looking for their man.  The family are just returning from re-burying (yet again) the corpses when the first cop cars arrive.  Predictably, the Katakuri clan are thrown into turmoil.  Believing the game to be up, the family launch into a song and dance about who will take the blame, with Great-grandpa trying to assume responsibility for it all to protect the rest of the family.  Inside the house though, the wanted man is holding Grandma Katakuri hostage with a knife.  As Great-gramps walks towards the police to accept his fate, they walk past him.  Seeing the police arriving to check the motel guest-book, he bursts out of the front door holding his hostage tightly and waving the knife at anyone who comes near.  There is a stand off between the police, the family and the man holding Granny with a knife to her throat.  The man lets her go after an impassioned plea from Grandpa Katakuri. 

The drama isn't over yet though folks.  Having released Grandma, the maniac runs at Grandpa with his knife.  In a moment of self-sacrifice, Criminal Katakuri the untrusted son runs into his path and is accidentally stabbed in the stomach.  As the wanted man is wrestled to the ground, the family gather at the side of their dying son.  Rather than seek medical attention, they decide that music is the best medicine and surround him for a song to the utter bemusement of the cops and the man they are supposed to be arresting.  With his 'dying' breath, he sings to his sister that she is a beautiful woman and should never stop trying to find Mr Right.  Awww. 

I'm not sure that I agree, mind.  I think that woman needs to be kept away from men at all costs.  Particularly ones in uniform...

Did I say the son was dying?  Of course, he's not dying.  It's just a scratch.  This is the weird and wonderful world of the Katakuri's!  Criminal Katakuri picks himself up, dusts himself off and is probably grateful that he isn't going to join the guests at the bottom of the garden.  Relieved that he is okay, the entire family stop crying and start laughing.  Until, that is, a volcanic eruption heralds another foray into claymation.  It is at this point that things start to get weird (yes, you heard me right) building towards the completely insane, mind bending end. 

Those who follow his work will not be surprised to learn that Takashi Miike is behind this surreal vehicle, who also lent his unique sense of humour to another film I reviewed, GOZU.  The Happiness Of The Katakuri's doesn't look as dark as GOZU, but I actually find it much darker – such as the twee songs and the cheerful demeanour of the characters as they have to dispose of guest after guest.  Like GOZU, it is a bit unfocused and sometimes seems like a selection of sketches rather than a coherent plot-driven film.  It begins with a scene totally unrelated to the rest of the movie and carries on in that spirit, constantly throwing things at us that are totally irrelevant.  Why, for example, do we have to watch a newsreader trying to report whilst a large fly climbs into his nose?  Why do we keep getting flashbacks to a Japanese man in drag singing a song about bones?  And don't even get me started on the ending...

Personally, I don't care about any of that though; this film is dearly beloved by me just because of its willingness to go off on its own tangents.  If you don't mind being pummelled with surreal images, ridiculous songs and a sumo wrestler bouncing on top of a young woman then you'll love it as much as I do. 

Things I Learned From This Movie:-
-If you want to appear heroic to your partner, simply play sound effects from the Normandy landings in the background, whilst shouting a lot. 
-Manic depressives dream of manned space flight.
-Never trust anyone claiming to be a member of the British Royal Family.  Especially when they are clearly Japanese in appearance, language and custom. 
-Contrary to certain misleading Michael Jackson videos, zombies are not good dancers.
-Moving house has never been portrayed quite so literally.
-In times of stress, headaches are a minor irritation; some people spontaneously turn into clay.
-Between the lactating innkeeper in GOZU and the body-count in this film, it is safe to say that Miike Takashi is not a big fan of hotels. 

Grandpa Katakuri - “WHY DO THEY COME HERE TO DIE?”

Family - (sung)
Where's the will?
He brought a knife!
Why didn't he use it?
Probably too depressed..

Zombies – (sung)
Are we losers?
Looking back to the past?
Don't try too hard to forget
In the end, it's just a memory

Stuff To Watch Out For:-
8mins –  Look at the one at the back.  That almost qualifies her for a RANDOM GRATUITIOUS BREAST SHOT!
12mins – That's quite a brutal explanation to give, even for a toddler as cynical as her..
14mins – Actress?  Are you mad?
16mins – I'd say... yes, he probably does want a room. 
21mins – AHAHAHAH!  Too depressed to use a knife?  What?
26mins – There's something unnerving about dancing whilst disposing of a body.  Mind you, there was something unnerving about dancing whilst discovering a body as well. 
29mins – You know, if I were single and desperately depressed about it, I wouldn't go to a place swarming with couples being romantic. 
37mins – He almost looked disappointed then – disappointed that it was his wife and not the ghost of the suicidal man. 
66mins – Gentle, true hearts?  You have three dead people in your back garden!
70mins – Why is she pretending to be a teapot?
87mins - “Is he dead?”  Well, that is a million dollar question...
107mins – Zebras?  Elephants?  Where the hell are you?  Oh no...  not another damn song!  Please!
108mins – Someone just threw that dog on camera. 
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