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  • Benjamin May

The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) Review

Some directors have a clearly defined and instantly identifiable style that makes their films impossible to mistake as the work of another. Think of David Lynch, or Martin Scorsese, or Wes Anderson. You can generally tell pretty quickly when one of their films begin that it's a work of their art because of their particular, distinct style and approach. Though there are many similar threads and stylizations that run through Takashi Miike's films, the only thing consistent about his cinematic style is that it is ever changing.

Loosely based on Kim Jee-woon's 'The Quiet Family,' 'The Happiness of the Katakuris' is a black-comedy musical that is as bizarre as it is entertaining. It follows the titular family as they open a bed and breakfast nestled in the foothills of a volcano. They believe a new road is being built nearby that will bring them customers a-plenty. However, the only visitors they receive are strange, introverted people who mysteriously and consistently pass away shortly after check-in. The Katakuris dispose of the bodies, but they keep piling up; and the machinations of a suave conman threaten to expose the bloody fiasco once and for all.

It's a very strange film from a director who specializes in them. The tale is truly unpredictable, quite funny and surprisingly heartfelt. The importance of the family unit is made quite clear through the wild, wacky story, as well as the idea that one shouldn't fear death. It is a certainty, and the film treats it as the natural part of life that it is; not as something to be feared. While this is hardly the main thrust of the narrative, it is a welcome additional element. The comedic antics of the family- trying in vain to control a situation getting dangerously out of hand- is the main focus, which makes for an eccentric and entertaining viewing experience; even if the latter half gets to be a little overly frenzied.

The film is rife with musical numbers, which seem to pop up at random, and are hilarious and surprisingly catchy. The choreography to them resembles the videos that would go along with the music in a cheap karaoke bar, and will really make you laugh. The songs themselves- composed and written by Kôji Endô and Kôji Makaino- are all snappy and memorable, in terms of lyrics and melody. 'Everyone Is In Love' is a real corker that you'll surely be humming for a long time; it burrows its' way into your subconscious like an earwig.

Visually, the film is somewhat less exciting. Hideo Yamamoto is a fine cinematographer, who has done striking work in films like 'Hana-Bi' and 'Why Don't You Play In Hell,' but his efforts here don't come to much. The whole film looks like it was shot on video and made for television, lacking the flair usually associated with both Miike and Yamamoto. It is not terrible by any means, just a little underwhelming.

The cast are all brilliant, in terms of singing, dancing and acting. In fact, as the film is an ensemble piece and everyone performs wonderfully, it's difficult to single out any one person to discuss or applaud. However, it's not impossible; so let us speak of the late Kiyoshiro Imawano. He plays the conman, who goes by the name Richard Sagawa, claims to be related to the English aristocracy and sports a crisp white naval officer's uniform- even while trawling through bogs. He is hilarious, completely unhinged and excessively corybantic. Sagawa plays the seedy but charming character perfectly, all but stealing the show with his delightful madness.

'The Happiness of the Katakuris' is a madcap melodrama featuring murder, mayhem and music. Takashi Miike once again proves he can do anything he puts his mind to in movie-making terms, cementing his reputation as one of cinema's most versatile directors. As funny as it is strange, the film features excellent performances from the cast and some terrific songs that linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled. It's certainly not for everyone, and it's by no means Miike's best effort, but if you like the strange, the humorous and the abstract; you can't go wrong with 'The Happiness of the Katakuris:' it's fabulous, frantic and fiendishly fun.


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