This black comedy musical is delirious and fun, but possibly a bit too absurd for its own good
Renegade director Takashi Miike seems to be making monthly appearances on this website. It’s no surprise though, his filmography as director features fifty-odd films, and even though he’s slowing down a bit now (roughly two films a year), it looks like he’ll be making regular appearances for a while yet.
Released in 2001, The Happiness of the Katakuris was one of Takashi Miike’s eight million films released that year, along with Family, Visitor Q, Ichi the Killer and Agitator. It’s a remake of Korean black comedy The Quiet Family, by Kim Jee Woon. Well, a loose remake at any rate.
The Katakuris are a four-generation family: Masao (Kenji Sawada), his wife Terue (Keiko Matsuzaka), his father Jinpei (Tetsuro Tamba), his son Masayuki (Shinji Takeda), daughter Shizue (Naomi Nishia), and her child Yurie (Tamaki Miyazaki). Masao has, after being laid off, recently bought a large house by Mount Fuji which the family has turned into a hotel, the White Lovers’ Inn.
After a period without guests, one finally arrives – a depressed man who kills himself in the night. Not wanting the negative publicity, they bury him in the back just as another guest arrives: a Sumo wrestler and his underage girlfriend. The following morning, they find he’s died of a heart attack and she choked to death underneath him. On top of the growing pile of bodies, the family have to deal with fake US naval officer Richard Sagawa (Kiyoshiro Imawano), who seduces Shuzie, a volcano, the police and a murderer on the run, all while singing odd tunes and occasionally turning into Claymation characters.
Yeah. This is a strange one. Strange even by Miike standards. Firstly, it is worth noting that Katakuris is a farce through and through. Every event exists in a heightened reality, and it feels like it could be animated. In fact, some of it is. The film opens with an unrelated segment: a woman orders soup in a restaurant, only to find a small winged demon in it. Everything becomes Claymation, the demon eats her uvula, a raven eats the demon, a whole load of weird stuff happens, and then another raven flies over the Katakuri residence, where Jinpei throws a stick at it. Then the story can begin. It makes zero sense, although it is a neat opening scene. There is a couple of other Claymation scenes, put where there should be CGI. It gives the film a low-budget, campy feel that prevails throughout.
Here, between making bloody, violent gangsters and horrors, Miike is clearly having a lot of fun. Frequent musical collaborator Koji Endo wrote the songs which are interspersed throughout. The songs don’t stick to any one genre: there’s rock, show tunes, love songs and everything in between. None of them are particularly memorable, except for one decent karaoke piece and the final song which is a classic piece of musical fun, a jolly tune about happiness and the importance of family.
And that, if there is a theme, is what this film is about. Every member of the Katakuri family has failed at something in the past, which is what brought them all together to this hotel. Masao was laid off at his job, Masayuki has a criminal past, Shizue has a string of failed loves (and is a single mother because of it). The hotel is almost a last-ditch effort to do something good, so when it all goes to hell you feel bad for them. No one is developed in any real fashion, but they’re easy archetypes so you get a sense of who they are without that much time devoted to fleshing them out. This is where Happiness of the Katakuris falls flat though: it wants to tell a story about this family sticking together through hardship, and the strength they have together (they carry their house over a landslide in one claymation scene), but is too wrapped up in weird zombie dance numbers and bizarre TV drag acts to actually do any of it effectively.
The end result is a film that is equal parts a blast to watch, and a confused mess and thus is incredibly hard to review. Miike has the eye for the strange, and nowhere is this more evident than in these kinds of movies.
Verdict: Inventive, unique and thoroughly flawed, The Happiness of the Katakuris is still a really fun way to spend two hours.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
Also known as カタクリ家の幸福 (Katakuri-ke no Kōfuku)
Director Takashi Miike
Writer Kikumi Yamagishi
Masao Kenji Sawada
Terue Keiko Matsuzaka
Masayuki Shinji Takeda
Jinpei Tetsuro Tamba
Shizue Naomi Nishia
Yurie Tamaki Miyazaki
Richard Kiyoshiro Iwamano