“Some things are truly strange.”–Father from Visitor Q, preparing to commit an unnatural act
DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike
FEATURING: Shungiku Uchida, Ken’ichi Endô, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko
PLOT: Father is a television reporter who was publicly humiliated when he was sodomized on camera by a gang of punks, Mother turns tricks to pay for her heroin habit, teenage Daughter is a runaway prostitute, and Son beats his mom with a riding crop when he’s not being bullied by his schoolmates. One day, a strange man conks Father on the head with a rock and moves in to stay with the family. Thanks to his influence Mother and Father gain confidence in themselves, and the family is drawn together, as corpses pile up in their home.
- Visitor Q was made as part of the “Love Cinema” project, where six independent Japanese filmmakers made direct-to-video movies to explore the possibilities of the ne digital video format.
- According to Miike the film was shot for a mere seven million yen (about $70,000) and completed in one week.
- There are several times in the film where boom mics are visible.
- Miike’s plot owes much to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), in which a mysterious, nameless visitor serially seduces members of a wealthy Italian family.
- Besides acting, the multi-talented Shungicu Uchida (“Mother”) is also a manga artist, singer, and writer.
- Visitor Q was one of two winners of the 2010 “reader’s choice” poll asking 366 Weird Movies’ readership to select one film that had been reviewed but passed over for inclusion on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a movie full of shock after shock, it’s the very last image, a scene of perverse family unity, that turns out to be the most affecting and haunting.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Visitor Q is a baffling parable of perversity. What starts out as a depraved but unhappy family ends up as a homicidal and unified clan, thanks to the intervention of a mysterious, omnipotent stranger who cracks the father on the skull with a rock and teaches the mother to lactate. Along the way, Miike films the family graphically indulging in every act of sexual deviance he can think of, and even makes up some new ones.
Short clip from Visitor Q
COMMENTS: Visitor Q is a confounding, bewildering movie, and not just because of the unexplained presence of the diabolical angel who leads the broken family to salvation in homicide and necrophilia. It’s non-stop, taboo-shattering shock filmmaking, made in less than a week’s time, but it’s no pink movie or punk provocation; the artistry behind it is undeniable. It’s filmed on video in a reality-television style, but the events it documents are anything but everyday, approaching the mystical. The movie’s a titillating and pornographic black comedy, but an air of seriousness (and, at times, of serious disgust) deflates the eroticism. It’s only real aim is to outrage and get a rise out of the audience, and get a rise it does: but the lift comes as much from its loyalty to its own inverted morality and aesthetics as from its vulgar displays. As a work of disturbing, arty fetish porn, it’s a classic.
My initial reaction to Visitor Q was that it was an empty and shameless gimmick of a movie, though brilliantly made considering its low aspirations. But even though I dismissed it, the movie kept nagging at me, largely due to the power of its final shot. Despite the parade of perversions Miike has oh-so-jokingly subjected us to, he saves the most powerful scene for the finale. The scene, sold by Shungicu Uchida’s seductively maternal smile, plays like Miike is lifting a veil of sick jocularity for a moment to take a peek at a reunion that would represent ultimate redemption—in an alternate universe. In our universe, the shot conjures up sentiments simultaneously sweet and revolting. To cap the climax, Miike (a master at selecting evocative end credits music) accompanies the visual with a melancholy ballad, with wispy vocals about the undulating sea delivered to acoustic accompaniment and distant percussion and gradually rising waves of feedback. The effect is, to say the least, emotionally complex; and the way Miike unnerves us by showing us and making us feel things previously unseen and unfelt is unparalleled.
Despite the bizarre premise and hasty, improvised production, Visitor Q emerges one of Miike’s best constructed movies. The digital videography is acceptable and appropriate to the subject matter; the camera is particularly good at picking up the gaudy, artificial pinks and yellows of the fireworks attacks, which might have come out muted and distant on film. The performance—particularly by a frequently nude, leaking, middle-aged Uchida—are brave and committed. The characters are well-crafted, with precisely drawn relationships between Father and Mother, Mother and Son, Father and Son, Mother and Visitor, and so on, which all develop and bear fruit as the story gestates. There are moments of transcendently dark invention. Miike knows how to build a scene; the black humor rises to a crescendo as the father becomes aroused preparing to cut up his dead girlfriend’s corpse, and then discovers that he has overcome his premature ejaculation problem just before things get really sticky. Miike sometimes allows the scripts he directs to wander off in their weirdness (see Gozu). That looseness can be effective, but Visitor Q (written by Full Metal Yakuza‘s Itaru Era) is remarkable and satisfying in its tight construction. Everything is connected, nothing is wasted, and there’s a consistency to the film’s (a)moral vision; family unity is the sole value, individual isolation the only evil. Everything in the tale is about bringing the divided family back together, and social mores are gleefully smashed by both the forces of “good” and evil.
Visitor Q doesn’t lack for weirdness—the family enjoying a quiet dinner while they are under assault from a gang of roman-candle wielding toughs, the enigmatic Visitor sitting with a plastic umbrella to protect himself from Mother’s enthusiastic “squirting”—but the weird effect is almost totally submerged by the in-your-face sexual transgressions. Writing this review, I encountered more evidence of that fact. When selecting quotes for the “what the critics say” portion of these entries, if possible I pick ones emphasizing adjectives like “weird,” “surreal,” “bizarre,” and so on; that proved a tougher task than usual with Visitor Q, where, despite the movie’s overweening strangeness, reviewers were much more likely to focus on words like “scandalous,” “harrowing,” and “ewwwww!” In a 2001 interview, Miike concedes his intention was to shock: “I really feel like Audition didn’t go over the top,” he told reporters. “The envelope remains to be pushed.” The hidden premise is that envelope-pushing is a worthwhile endeavor. But Audition was a great movie that pushed the envelope; it wasn’t a great movie because it pushed the envelope. That’s why, in my initial review, I wrote that Visitor Q was “more a shock movie that’s incidentally weird than a weird movie that happens to be shocking… it seems to fit more comfortably into the shock genre than the weird genre.”
Its narrative mystery, constant surprises and—obviously—titillation factor makes Visitor Q a surprisingly enjoyable film, if you can get past the powerful “ick factor.” The movie’s prime showpieces are father-daughter for-pay incest, sodomy by microphone, insanely copious lactation, rape, and necrophilia, all shown with as pornographic a level of explicitness as Miike could get away with (there is genital fogging, though unfortunately in a key scene there is no anal fogging). Those critics willing to publicly embrace the film as something more than artistic pornography needed a peg to hang their praise on, and for their sake the movie provides tiny bumps of satire and social commentary. There is the background of the moral breakdown of Japanese youth, the suggestion that the family is essentially an abusive institution, and references to the corrupting influence of television and media. Read literally, the message is that Japanese families are dysfunctional because each member keeps his perversion private; if everyone would take an interest in the others’ activities—like raping corpses, shooting heroin, or suckling on Mom’s breasts as a family—everything would work out. The family unit actualizes and comes together by being antisocial as a unit rather than individually. Of course, it’s impossible to accept this literal reading, but Miike hardly suggests what his attitude toward sexual upheaval and the breakdown of the family really is. Critics have argued both that the movie is a savage frontal attack on the concept of the nuclear tribe, and that it’s a fundamentally conservative defense of the traditional family. I think it’s neither; it’s not a thesis on Japanese society, but a dream of unbridled id, and those thin straps of social relevance are the only thing that keeps the film from flying off into a void of diseased libido. It’s hard to imagine Miike didn’t sport the same sort of guilty erection dreaming up certain scenes as the male audience does watching them. Up until the very end of the movie, the film’s ironic attitude—distancing itself from the horrifying material with hip, callous comedy—is off-putting, far more disturbing than the rapes and beatings themselves. Transgressive themes play better when their horror is honored, rather than chuckled at; we don’t get that sickening suspicion that a movie is secretly celebrating and perpetuating the perversion and immorality it pretends to condemn. Whether the cleverness of this project overcomes that sickness is up to the individual viewer to decide, but there is enough talent and artistry in Visitor Q to make it a worthwhile encounter for those who are well-prepared for what they’re about to see, or for the hopelessly jaded.
Visitor Q isn’t merely a work of epic sensationalism, although it is sensational, in spades. Its careful craftsmanship, eerie ending and twisted logic present much more of a challenge to the thoughtful viewer’s sensibilities than the typical exploitation shockfest. Compared to the plotless, pointless, peripatetic nihilism of avant-garde provocations like Nekromantik or Trash Humpers, Visitor Q emerges as a masterpiece of its kind, simultaneously managing to be both outrageously pornographic and slyly nuanced. If you’re rooting about in cinema’s transgressive muck looking for a gem, Visitor Q‘s weird gleam should catch your eye.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…meta-weird… Perhaps to understand this family is to go mad with them … but what are movies if not vehicles for exploration into the beyond and the beneath, into what can’t be spoken but can, with such rough poignancy, be shown? “–Richard Corliss, Time (contemporaneous)
“…a surreal dramatisation of the social problems which beset the traditional Japanese family… beneath all Miike’s over-the-top absurdities lurk real feelings (inadequacy, alienation, repressed sexuality) that simmer away in most ‘normal’ families. All Miike has done is grossly exaggerate – and this is what gives the film its darkly satirical edge.”–Anton Bitel, Movie Gazette (DVD)
IMDB LINK: Visitor Q (Video 2001)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Borderline Weird: Visitor Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001) – Our original, less charitable review of Visitor Q
DVD INFO: Tokyo Shock’s Visitor Q DVD is a fairly bare-bones affair, containing only a few brief paragraphs of biographical info on Miike and a few additional paragraphs of gushing criticism. There’s also the astounding, and rather explicit, original animated trailer, along with trailers fro three other Tokyo Shock titles. A two disc offering titled Visitor Q+ (buy) was released in 2009; it contains a second disc of trailers titled “8 Flavors of Fever Dreams,” and is actually being offered at a lower price point at the time of this writing.http://366weirdmovies.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Visitor_Q.flv