I have mixed feelings about Japanese shock director Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer). On the one hand, he is undoubtedly an incredibly creative man, capable of shooting stunning film and telling perfectly crafted stories when he reins in some of his baser instincts. The man’s vision of the world is absolutely, 100% unique. You could never confuse a Miike film for anything else.
On the other hand, several of Miike’s film cross the line into misogyny and you often get the sense that he’s painted himself into a corner by building a name as a shock director. He now has to keep upping the ante to maintain the interest of his fans, and his films often degenerate into sloppy, messy affairs that don’t seem to have much point other than cramming as much bizarre and unsettling imagery onto the screen as possible.
I wasn’t planning on seeing Gozu, one of Miike’s latest films (he releases three or four in any given year), but when it turned out that Gozu was the last film I was working on my last volunteer shift of the festival and they needed somebody to sit in the theater to watch out for video pirates, I quickly volunteered my services. I was rewarded with a prime seat right next to the film’s local representative who could be seen shaking his head and muttering “This is so messed up…” at several points throughout the screening.
Gozu is billed as a yakuza horror film, and though it certainly involves a good number of yakuza, it is absolutely not a horror film. There is no attempt made to scare the audience here and the local distributor would do well to rethink their marketing. Heh… who am I kidding? This thing’s never going to get out there on any scale where marketing’s going to matter.
Gozu is a thoroughly bizarre, Jungian excursion that would make David Lynch blush at the straightforwardness of his own films. Trained yakuza attack Chihuahuas, wildly lactating innkeepers, conflicted loyalties, a disappearing corpse, sexual repression, a strange cow headed figure, a yakuza boss who can only get an erection if he has a soup ladle inserted into his anus, and a graphic adult human birth scene — that would be an adult human giving birth to another adult human — that puts Udo Kier’s birth scene at the end of The Kingdom to shame all figure prominently.
Some of this is old ground for Miike (the excessive lactation pops up in a few of his films), but what separates this one is an absurd sense of humor that Miike has only really exhibited before with The Happiness of the Katakuris. While he normally tends to get bogged down in attempts to shock and disturb, with Gozu Miike is working with a nod and a wink, acknowledging that he’s putting together something utterly bizarre and confounding and inviting the audience to simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
As far as narrative goes, Gozu is primarily the story of Minami, a low level yakuza gangster, and his immediate superior Ozaki to whom Minami is intensely loyal. However, Ozaki has fallen out of favor with the gang. The boss feels Ozaki is losing his grip on reality (see above comment regarding trained yakuza attack Chihuahuas) and orders Minami to take Ozaki out to a gang-run autowrecker and execute him. Minami agonizes over what he’s going to do throughout the entire drive until he suddenly comes to a washed out bridge and slams on the brakes, sending Ozaki flying headfirst into the dashboard, breaking his neck and thus doing Minami’s job for him.
Visibly rattled, Minami stops at a roadside diner for a coffee, but while he’s inside, Ozaki’s body disappears. The bulk of the film is then spent with Minami trying to track down Ozaki’s corpse, which increasingly appears to have been reanimated. Eventually, he tracks down a young woman who claims to be Ozaki and who can recite, verbatim, entire conversations that only Minami and Ozaki knew as proof of her identity.
As has been the case with virtually every Miike film I have seen, I was very impressed with the caliber of the cinematography, editing, and performances. Very often this material is poorly shot on the cheap, with the filmmakers counting on the general oddity to distract the viewers from the poor quality, but not Miike. In his case, he’s an obviously gifted filmmaker who has just chosen a very strange genre in which to express himself.
Written by Chris Brown.