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The Happiness of the Katakuris | Blu-ray Review

The Happiness of the Katakuris Takashi Miike Blu-rayTakashi Miike‘s The Happiness of the Katakuris begins with a woman probing a freshly delivered bowl of soup only to fish out a miniature angel/gargoyle/teletubby? whose presence seems to instigate the onscreen conversion of the world into claymation before tearing out the poor woman’s uvula and tossing it into the air to float away like a heart-shaped balloon. This is a film that, even in an oeuvre that includes works as disparate as gross out shocker Visitor Q and the kid friendly The Great Yokai War, is pure unpredictable insanity that baffles as much as it entertains. Essentially a horror comedy musical, Miike’s genre mashing farce is loosely based on Kim Jee-woon’s The Quiet Family, in which a family owns a remotely located bed and breakfast whose customers always happen to die during their stay, yet takes that simple premise to its outermost extremes in the silliest of ways.

Violently transitioning from eerie mood to absurdity slapstick to outbursts of song in a various genres, Miike’s first and only foray into the cinematic musical is a stew that lacks nothing but subtlety, tonal balance and a set of believable performances. Not even the presence of Tetsurô Tanba, who appeared in such classics as Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri and Hideo Gosha’s Three Outlaw Samurai, could find his footing in the ever shifting earthquake of zaniness. It’s as if Miike and his collaborators couldn’t decide on either an aesthetic or feel for the film, so they just pushed for a little of everything, ultimately resulting in a film featuring giddy, bumbling performances that rival those of Tommy Wiseau and blend with musical numbers and an increasing fatality rate like brain-bits and marshmallows.

And to make matters even more bizarre, the death-blowing bed & breakfast cover-up plot is further convoluted by the host family’s recently divorced daughter falling in love with a man who claims to be not only a famed British Navy officer, but the nephew of Queen Elizabeth II. His late appearance at the lodge sees him accidentally discovering the truth of what’s been going on, only to be interrupted by the eruption of a nearby volcano. At this point, again, the world transforms into a grotesquely distorted claymation universe in which the rules of real life (which barely applied beforehand) are burned away in a cascade of lava flow. It’s all quite silly, but with its wild, carefree ambition, The Happiness of the Katakuris remains endearing.

Disc Review:

Lavishly stocked with contextual goodies and packaged with care by Arrow Video, this dual format release is absolutely top notch. The film was originally shot digitally and hence whites often possess a very unnatural blueish tint, but otherwise the film looks pretty good. Detail is crisp and color reproduction is faithful. Being that it is a musical, we should be grateful of the uncompressed original stereo track that has spectral depth and pushes all the wild, varying songs through without issue. The packaging itself is reversible, for those who prefer the farcical Sound of Music inspired look that comes by default on the inside.

Audio Commentary by director Takashi Miike and actor Tokitoshi Shiota
Tokitoshi Shiota is also a film critic and spends much of the time prodding Miike for information on production and background, but the filmmaker often responds with very brief comments. That said, there is much joking around and it makes for an entertaining listen. Oddly, there is also an English language recreation of the Japanese commentary, for those who prefer not to read the subtitled original track.

Audio Commentary by Miike scholar Tom Mes
As with Mes’ included visual essay, this track is incredibly insightful and informative about the cultural context around the film and how the project fits in to Miike’s overall oeuvre.

The Making of the Katakuris
Featuring plenty of making-of behind the scenes footage, this piece oozes with the same zainy production cheese as the feature. 31 min

Interviews with the Katakuris
Within, each cast member, including Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, and Tetsuro Tanba, briefly speak on their opinions of the film. Of the two Takashi Miike interviews, the contemporary one sees Miike discuss at length how the project came together and many of the decisions that went into the production. 62 min

Animating the Katakuris
A fun, if brief look at the creation of the film’s stop motion effects with animation director Hideki Kimura. Who knew Miike was influenced by Jan Svankmajer? 5 min

Dogs, Pimps and Agitators
A thoroughly enjoyable and informative visual essay by Miike expert Tom Mes in which he recounts the wholly original career trajectory of the oddball Japanese director. 24 min

Trailer and TV Spots
The PR behind this film definitely knew Miike’s audience at the time knew him for his wild genre jaunts and accentuated the horror elements within. 2 min

Featuring a new essay on the film by author Johnny Mains and a re-printed interview with Miike conducted by Sean Axmaker originally published in Asian Cult Cinema back in 2002, this booklet is packed with stills and promotional images, as well as transfer info and film credits.

Final Thoughts:

The Happiness of the Katakuris is one of the most bizarre films I’ve had the pleasure of watching. It was great to be able to revisit the film with such a wealth of extras to give more depth to the project. Arrow Video continues to bring underseen gems of cinematic ridiculousness to a broader audience with care and as much grace can be had by Takashi Miike and the like.

Film:             ★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

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