22.12.13

Always Get Moving Again. OK!: The Happiness Of The Katakuris (2001)

The idea of post-genre cinema is one of the things that has come to truly fascinate me in the past year or so as I begin to truly unpack my research interests and begin to focus on graduate school endeavors.  When I refer to post-genre, at least in my mind, it is taking a particularly key genre, such as horror or the western and using tropes and themes from it in an incredibly post-modern way, usually in a satirical or absurdist manner.  Of course, there are post-genre exceptions that manages to take their execution very seriously without be comedic or absurdist, John Hillcoat's The Proposition being a perfect example of such an occurrence.  Indeed, some filmmakers simply exist in a state of post-genre, always mashing together what they find to be cinematic language extended to its furthers points, Quentin Tarantino being an example of this, although much of what he does is purely copying and pasting.  Other directors, like one of Tarantino's favorites, Takashi Miike manages to be post-genre in every cinematic endeavor he undertakes.  For example, both Audition and his more recent 13 Assassins manage to be post-genre purely by prefabricating the horror and samurai films to fit within a post-digital and post-modern viewer palette, resulting in incredibly engaging works of film that also happen to be deeply unsettling for their frank depictions of violence and oppression.  In a world all its own, however, is Miike's The Happiness of the Katakuris, which sets itself up primarily as a musical, but also functions as a tradtional family drama, not to mention making heavy use of claymation throughout.  In setting up a film with such a series of idyllic and traditionally positive genre elements, Miike's choice to make the film a horror thriller within this context proves to create as perplexing and enigmatic a film as one might ever encounter, taking second only to House in terms of otherworldly Japanese cinema.  Assumedly a work like this is part of the Japanese Weird Wave, but simply describing it as such does nothing to help establish how truly unusual and anti-normative this particular work manages to be.  It has no limitations, nor does it expect its viewers to look for such boundaries.


As the title suggests the film centers on the experiences of a family known as the Katakuris, who have been living under the guise of failure from their various generations for well over four decades, beginning with the father Jinpei (Tesuro Tamba) and running all the way down to the Katakuri son and former criminal Masayuki (Shinji Takeda).  While failure seems to simply be part of the family dynamic, they are nonetheless capable of running a moderately successful bed and breakfast in a rural area of Japan, even picking up considerable business when they arrive at a new location.  Things at the establishment seem to be particularly successful until a weird occurrence begins to unfold wherein the various guests at their home begin dying, either by suicide or other inexplicable causes of death.  Alongside the other members of the family divorced daughter Shizue (Naomi Nishida) manages to navigate her own severe anxieties and depressions at being left by a Japanese man purporting to be part of the British Royal Family named Richard Sagawa (Kiyoshiro Imawano).  Aside from struggling at his return, Shizue also attempts to shelterer daughter Yurie (Tamaki Miyazaki) who also narrates the film, from the various violence and sadness occurring around their residence.  However, this attempt at sheltering proves all but futile when it is revealed that not only have the buried bodies begun to stack up considerably, but many of them are coming back to live with avegence, one that is surprisingly quelled by the seemingly indifferent Yurie.  Between this bizarre occurrence and the unforeseen return of Richard to the family space, the various failures of the members of the family are pushed to the forefront and each is able to deal with their individual issues, while also understanding that they are within a family structure simultaneously, one that should prosper both within and detached from the individual.  Although the family clearly moves to a place of forgiveness, the rumbling and eventual explosion of a nearby volcano proves to be the last bit of push needed for a new direction in their lives, even if violently so.


I want so desperately to unpack every bit of minutia in this film, but I am aware that it is a lot going on and it is only exacerbated by not being completely versed on the various genres at play both in their Western context and their appropriation within a Japanese setting.  Furthermore, I am far too lacking in knowledge of the familial space in Japan to offer a further consideration.  I make all these claims, because I am still hoping that I can draw some conclusions based on post-colonial bodies and having scene not only other Miike films, but quite a lot of Japanese cinema as well (although I could always stand to view more).  I want first to consider Miike's use of claymation within the film, while things like Alice and The Fantastic Mr. Fox have managed to push the consideration of the childlike association to such an advertising style, it is decidedly entrenched within the cinema of young children and Miike is clearly using it in this context.  The humorous, slapstick nature of the situations occurring in this setting lead one to assume a situation in which it is wholly funny, if not a bit on the grotesque side, but I would argue that it is using this very non-threatening medium to call attention to very real issues of violence, based in oppression within the context of modern Japan.  This could emerge in two distinct ways, the first being a fear of the colonized past, wherein the performative Richard, donning his literal costume, represents an idea of the colonial figure as idea, even though he himself is indeed a colonized body in the context, his rejection is affecting his body, whereas the claymation serves as a means to directly address the violent bodily harm at play within post-colonial and later gendered oppression, by making light of it.  Brechtian as it may be, it is calling attention to the viewers own concerns, by placing it under the guise of humor and childlike comedy.  This same critique could be extended to consider masculinity within the musical numbers as well, whether it be the action movie inspired musical number about male sacrifice, or the entire scenes surrounding the deeply disturbing engagement between a young girl and the sumo wrestler guest.  It is all a veneer of hyper-idealism that plays into the reality which is far from ideal.  Indeed, this is on a level of anti-escapism equal to Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark.

Key Scene:  The karaoke style sing-a-long portion had me laughing uncontrollably the entire time.

The DVD is a bit pricey and not the best quality.  While I can hold out for a bluray upgrade in the future that is probably not very likely.  As such, renting is the most appropriate course of action.

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