Being one of his four directing projects in 2003, prolific cult film director Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi: The Killer, Happiness of the Katakuris) continues to deliver the odd and unpredictable with Gozu. Miike has already risen to legend status due to, not only the extremes his films often leap to, but the sheer number of films he's managed to direct in the past decade or so (that's some fifty films, folks). Gozu finds Miike delving back into Visitor Q territory for another surreal... Hmmmnnn? How to describe it?....well, the only term I can think of right now is mindfuck. And, a very good fuck it is.
Minami (Hideki Sone) and Ozaki (Miike regular Sho Aikawa- Dead or Alive) are yakuza blood brothers, with the younger Minami looking up, perhaps even secretly/subconsciously lusting?, after his elder. However, Ozaki has become a liability due to his dubious mental state, which includes a paranoid delusion about Chihuahua yakuza assassins. Minami is ordered to rub out Ozaki and dispose of the body in their Nagoya body dump. A disinclined Minami sets out to do as he's told. But, as Minami drives his comrade to his final destination, some quickly applied brakes lead to Ozaki breaking his neck. A panicked Minami has to stop at a cafe to call his superiors, and while he's on the phone Ozaki's body disappears from the back seat of the car. Stuck in a strange town in the middle of nowhere amoungst a parade of increasingly odd residents, things just get weirder as Minami searches for Ozaki.
Yeah, and I didn't mention the pigment impaired yakuza liaison, the cross dressing waiter, the lactating hotel matron, or the cow head demon (a gozu-rasetsu) that Minami encounters.
Weird, yes, but, like the best of David Lynch or Luis Bunuel, only in the best absurd and symbolic sense. It is oblique enough that every crack isn't filled and the narrative leaves plenty of room for interpretation. To me, it is pretty clear that the whole tale delves into some areas of sexual confusion. Minami and Ozaki seem to have another level to their bond that they cannot recognize. Minami's sexual identity is questionable and something he isn't comfortable with, a fact that is shown in two scenes where both sexes come on to him. And, when he does resurface, Ozaki has undergone a transmogrification which culminates in one of those unforgettable finales Miike seems to deliver with gusto.
Now, this is a more deliberately paced effort, which isn't unusual for Miike, however the film lacks the bloodbaths or more jolting shock set pieces that pepper a lot of his films. It exits in a more delusional state and the film hinges more on the peculiarities, be it a road that abruptly ends into a lake, a café customer who endlessly talks about the weather, how to beat a psychic medium into a trance, or the way in which a yakuza boss uses a ladle as a sexual aid. Now, other reviews may point out more story details and give away some other odd moments about Gozu in an effort to describe the near indecipherable, but I think this is the sort of film you just have to take a chance on. If your internal divining rod points to the surreal, suffice to say, there is no shortage of offbeat imagination in the film to leave you entertained.
The DVD: Pathfinder
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. While making the rounds at some festivals, Gozu was always primarily a video release project. That is also probably the reason that while anamorphic, the film isn't quite flagged properly and comes across a tad muddier than most. The image is okay. I've certainly seen far worse Miike related transfers. Contrast levels are nice and deep, but the grain is fairly heavy thus lessening the detail levels. Sharpness and color varies, in some scenes being crisper and more vibrant, in others a tad rougher. But, again, fair warning, it's a muddle.
Sound: Japanese Dolby 2.0 soundtrack with optional English subtitles. Audio is well balanced and even. No noticeable quirks like hiss or drop-off. Good subtitle translation.
Extras: Film Essay by author Tom Mes-- Miike Interviews, with film critics Wade Major (12:54) and Andy Klien (18:41), and directors Guillermo Del Toro and Eli Roth (19:01)-- Production Featurette (19:40)-- Trailers-- Biographies/Filmographies-- Still Gallery-- Title Theme Song Video-- Audio Commentary by critics Andy Klein and Wade Major. I didnt get much of a sense of Klein and Major being Japanese or cult film afficianados. The commentary was mostly basic in its info and more observational and reactionary to the film. -- Production Credits and Panorama bonus trailers.
Conclusion: You know, Gozu is one of those films that, I think, even if you don't like it, you aren't likely to ever forget it. It has some moments and imagery that are likely to haunt most viewers forever, and that says a lot. Pathfinder have done a pretty good job, cobbling together a decent presentation with some good extras. A purchase for the lovers of the odd.