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Happiness of the Katakuris

Ventura // R // February 25, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 28, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The Katakuris buy a hotel tucked away in the mountains and well off the beaten path. The father, Masau Katakuri, believes he has lucked into information of a major road running nearby, but that road doesn't come soon enough and they find themselves out in the middle of nowhere without a customer in sight. The whole family has moved there, Grandpa, mom and father, daughter Shizue and her daughter, and the rebellious son Matsuyuki, but it is mainly father Katakuri who is cracking under the pressure of not getting any business.

When that first customer finally comes, it arrives in the form of a suicidal man. They cover up his could-be-misconstrued death to avoid any bad press. But then their second clients, a sumo wrestler and his young teen groupie, also die and the bodies start piling up. Lonely Shizue is taken under the sway of a gigolo, the self professed Navy officer and bastard member of the Royal Family, Richard Sagawa. The police start sniffing around. The road is finally coming but its construction goes through where the bodies are buried. Jilted crazed lovers run amok. The earth quakes and mountains rumble, and they will have to be family to survive it all.

Now, this is what a remake should be, a re-imagining of sorts, taking the same basic story and molding into something completely fresh. Takashi Miike's Happiness of the Katakuris takes the Korean black comedy The Quiet Family and shapes it into a maniacal musical comedy fantasy. The same basic premise is there, a celebration of family and life amidst comic death, only now deft story changes and the addition of musical numbers make Katakuris and altogether different animal than the film that inspired it.

The cast is perfect, each embodying their roles with their particular character quirk, be it the nerve addled father, the doting earth other, the lovelorn daughter, or the crow killing upbeat grandfather.

It would be nice if the music were a little more catchy. Mainly the numbers are brief, little explosions of song. The songs that work best are the more full scale production numbers like Ma and Pa Katakuris love ballad (complete with sing-along karaoke lyrics on the screen) or Shizue's imaging of Richard Sagawa wooing her. But, for me anyway, there weren't any songs that stuck out as very catchy or particularly memorable, some were even a bit off-putting and too clumsy. It is strange, despite how odd and imaginative the film is, little things like the dancing corpses in a musical number seem like they could have been even more outrageous and funny. Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You pulled off this combo of catchy tunes in offbeat settings much better (like a memorable ghosts at a funeral number). Still, even if the songs aren't catchy, there is a roughness to the largely non-musical cast and a sloppiness that works in their characters favor because of their pure earnestness. The real standout would have to be Kiyoshiro Imawano as Richard Sagawa, an actual singer, albeit an oddball Japanese one with a sort of rockin' Tom Jones meets William Shatner kind of quality.

But, Takashi Miike's sensibilities make it an entertaining affair. In terms of tone it is quite different from his blood soaked new wave gangster tales that have made him a cult icon, like the Dead or Alive series and Ichi the Killer, but he has shown himself as proficient in other genres, like horror with Audition and more traditional fare like Bird People of China. Katakuris belongs more in the vein of Visitor Q, death-rot black comedies with a familial subject matter. His changes in the originals plotting work quite well, the younger son with a shady past, the lothario Richard Sagawa is far more amusing than the horny hiker in Quiet Family. Miike's penchant for black comedy is just a whole lot of fun, from a bizarre use of claymation, the dire cataclysm that unites them, and little touches like a tv reporter trying to ignore a fly that goes up his nose, or the family trying to figure out how to move the massive sumo wrestlers body. The real minus points I have to give the movie are that overall the original is better due to,... well, I simply thought Quiet Family was funnier and the musical numbers aren't as effective as they could be with some catchier tunes.

The DVD: Ventura/Chimera

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Picture falls into the average territory. It is a mixed bag of good (but not too good) and bad (but not too bad). Colors are strong, exhibiting Miike's striking color palette and heavy use of filters and exaggerated lighting. Sharpness could be better, it is just a bit too soft throughout. Overall though, in comparison to the other releases one could import, it probably fares a bit better, a cleaner print, is fairly priced, and is anamorphic to boot.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Mainly the track is centered, voices in the middle with a bit of musical fill in the sides. As I said, the musical numbers are largely pretty cheesy and intentionally loose and with non-professional singing and the compositions are all keyboard and synthesized sound based. It is a nice clear track though, and the subtitle translation is quite good.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers Happiness of the Katakuris, Audition, City of Lost Souls, Black Rose Mansion and Everything Put Together.--- "Making of Happiness of the Katakuris" 2 parts, first (30 mins) a really fun and briskly paced featurette. The cast and Miike and crew are interviewed about the film. Lots of behind the scenes material that show how much fun they had while filming and Miike's lighthearted, energetic interaction with his cast. Then following the featurette there is an additional (30:00) selection of interviews with Miike and the cast, as well as a behind the scenes look at creating the claymation sequences. --- Takashi Miike Interview (32:30). This interview was conducted a year after filming Katakuris and Miike talks extensively about his work habits, acting in other peoples films, and his persona. The odd thing is that the interview is dubbed, which is a bit off-putting at first.--- Commentary by Miike and actor/critic Tokitoshi Shiota (first suicidal guest in the film). There are two commentary tracks, one in Japanese, another an English dub of the Japanese track. Once again, like the dubbed interview, it is odd since the dubbers must mimic Miike and Shiota's inflections, their casualness, chuckling, and one wonders why they didn't just subtitle the commentary. Anyway, the commentary is pretty self conscious and a bit forced. While they are fairly casual and make bad jokes, there are some spots of silence. Still every now and then there are nice tidbits about the production, making it a decent listen for Miike fans.

Conclusion: Well, even though it isn't fully up to Miike's potential, compared to most films it is still nearly overflowing with imagination and great black comedy. This is the most extra-laden region one Miike DVD currently available. The DVD image and sound offer a very decent presentation, but the real selling point are the extras, interviews, behind the scenes, and commentary that will make this a must purchase for any Miike fan.

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Highly Recommended

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