1*. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)

Katakuri-ke no kôfuku

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida,

PLOT: The Katakuri clan retires to a remote mountain area to run a bed and breakfast, but the place seems cursed, as every guest who stays there dies. The Katakuris try to cover up the deaths to avoid bad publicity, while frequently bursting into song and dance numbers.

Still from The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Happiness of the Katakuris is actually a remake (some say a “very loose” remake) of a Jee-woon Kim’s (non-musical) Korean black comedy The Quiet Family.
  • Miike made Katakuris the same year as Visitor Q, an even blacker comedy which also deals with the theme of a “happy” Japanese family. Katakuris and Q were two of a remarkable eight movies the prolific auteur released in 2001.
  • The Happiness of the Katakuris received the highest number of total votes in 366 Weird Movies first Apocryphally Weird movie poll, making it arguably the most popular weird movie left off the 366 Weird Movies canon.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll have to go with that little claymation yōkai/imp that pops out of a random diner’s soup and falls in love with her heart-shaped uvula—with bizarrely comic results.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Claymation infatuation; reanimated corpse song and dance

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Katakuri clan came about as close to making the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made as possible; we held off honoring them partly because their movie, while weird indeed, was overlong and uneven, and partly because Takashi Miike was already well-represented with three Canonically Weird movies, and it was time to give someone else a shot. The movie’s inclusion on the secondary list of Apocrypha titles was assured, and it’s a highly appropriate choice for the inaugural title in our runners-up category.

Short clip from The Happiness of the Katakuris

COMMENTS: The Happiness of the Katakuris begins with a four-minute scene, which really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, in which a claymation imp rises from a woman’s soup, falls in love with her heart-shaped uvula, and flies away with it—then has three minutes of further adventures with a predatory bird. Unlike the serious and searing Audition, where the director springs surpises on an unsuspecting audience in a blistering final act, Miike does not allow anyone here to complain of stealth weirdness. After this bizarro prologue, the story about clan of hoteliers who break out into song whenever their guests die seems refreshingly sane and conventional.

The movie settles down into a narrative after that introduction as we meet four generations of Katakuris: a patriarch and matriarch still very much in love, a feisty grandpa, a son with anger-management issues, and a desperate-for-romance daughter and her love child (who serves as the film’s narrator). The characters are well-drawn and likable, but ill-starred, as the location of their bed and breakfast proves too remote for foot traffic (and also too near an active volcano). When they finally do get a paying customer, he’s only checked in to commit suicide (and supply the occasion for the film’s first musical number).

The songs are definitely Karakuris’ high points; the dancing isn’t professional (although a couple of the cast members came from the music scene), but neither that fact nor the unfamiliarity of the language to non-Japanese speakers impedes Miike’s imaginative stagings, which are decorated with simple special effects and colorful, kaleidoscopic green-screen backgrounds. The most memorable moments are a matrimonial fantasy that sends the bride spinning through space with her dashing half-Japanese sailor groom; a disco-ball love ballad with the cheesy production values of a 1980s K-tel records commercial; the final number, a direct parody of The Sound of Music; and any time the corpses peek out of their graves and try to dance along.

Katakuris was made during the sweet spot of Miike’s career: between 1998 and 2004 he directed an incredible 38 feature length movies. Obviously, making more than five films a year meant that he paid little attention to each project; and yet, all of them are professional-looking and technically accomplished. He made movies like a man in a fever, and it shows. More ideas poured out of Miike then he could possibly do justice to, which led to a movies filled with an anything-goes quality and utter unpredictability. If an idea crossed millennial Miike’s mind, he threw it in to his current project. Therefore, Katakuris isn’t simply a black comedy/musical, a mishmash which would have been an unusual enough standing alone. He also includes deranged motifs like multiple references to nasal discharge (not only do snot and blood leak from charactes’ noses, but a CGI insect crawls into a reporter’s sinuses while he’s doing a live broadcast). At one point, he adds a silhouette of humping rabbits to the full moon. The most notable touch, of course, is that insane claymation introduction; later on in Katakuris, live-action scenes will suddenly switch to the animated style. It’s a good guess that Miike originally wanted to add an animated movie to his expansive repertoire, but couldn’t finance a feature length film, so he used the budget he could secure to insert a few minutes at random into another script.

It may seem strange to criticize a project this deliberately loose and goofy for its aimlessness, but it really is a weakness in this case. Katakuris has energy, but lacks focus. It never decides whether the semi-serious family drama or mordant black comedy is most important, and the claymation action interludes just knock it farther off its axis. There isn’t much of a conclusion, just a series of incidents that eventually fizzle out. The incongruous “happiness” promised in the title suggests Miike will engage in some sort of philosophical reflection, but it turns out to be little more than the idea that Japanese families stick together through thick and thin—a theme better treated with the horrifying subversive irony of Visitor Q. Overall, Katakuri is much better in its parts, especially the musical numbers, then it is as a whole. But those parts are strange enough to make it a hard-to-forget oddity.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As weird movie openings go, this one’s in a class of its own. The rest of Miike’s musical extravaganza isn’t exactly your usual collection of song and dance numbers either.”–Mark Stevens, BBC (contemporaneous)

“The biggest surprise for Miike fans and musical lovers alike is that for all the black humor of this deliriously bizarre fantasy ‘Happiness’ is a warmhearted film about sacrifice, support and four generations of family togetherness in face of mounting corpses.”–Sean Axmaker, Seattle PI (contemporaneous)

OFFICIAL SITE:

IntroKatakuris – Original foreign distributor Vitagraph Films no longer have the rights to Katakuris but their listing is still up, with several synopses and a nice selection of stills

The Happiness of the Katakuris Blu-ray – The only interesting feature on Arrow Video’s official site is their trailer for the Blu-ray release

IMDB LINK: The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

The Happiness of the Katakuris (Film) – TV Tropes’ listing for the film

LIST CANDIDATE: THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001) – This site’s original List Candidate review

HOME VIDEO INFO: Arrow Video released a DVD/Blu-ray cobo pack special edition of the film in 2015 (buy). Most of the extra features appeared to be recycled from the 2003 Eastern Star DVD release. They include a commentary by Miike, a behind-the-scenes documentary, a featurette exploring the film’s animation, interviews with the cast, two interviews with the director (one new and one recycled), and trailers. The package also comes with a reversible sleeve and a booklet containing an essay and another interview with Miike.

The film can also be rented for on-demand viewing (rent), and at the time of this writing was free to stream with an Amazon Prime subscription.

3 thoughts on “1*. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)”

  1. Hoorah, the new list begins! Miike’s a man with more than a little to give on the weird cinema front.

  2. So many weird details to mention with this one, including the sumo wrestler who dies mid-coitus!

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