Due to popular demand, Visitor Q has been re-evaluated and certified weird, and the review has been updated to a full entry. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.
DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike
FEATURING: Ken’ichi Endô, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko
PLOT: A bizarrely dysfunctional Japanese family—dad is a TV reporter on haitus after
being sodomized by interviewees on camera, mom is a heroin addict and part-time hooker, son is bullied at school and beats his mother at home—becomes even stranger and more antisocial after a mysterious stranger shows up in their home.
WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It’s bizarre indeed, but Visitor Q is more interested in grossing out its viewers than it is in weirding them out. It’s more a shock movie that’s incidentally weird than a weird movie that happens to be shocking. The film doesn’t lack for surreality, or its own peculiar kind of quality within its type, but it seems to fit more comfortably into the shock genre than the weird genre.
COMMENTS: Watching Visitor Q, I found myself wishing Miike had the courage to make the hardcore porn fetish movie that he really wanted to make, instead of pulling his punches by wrapping the psychological nudity in gauzily transparent strips of art and satire. After all, 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). In a virtually unshockable age, it would have been truly audacious for the bad-boy director to make an out-and-out porn film without artistic pretensions; as it is, by sprinkling his fetish video with a little redeeming surrealism, all Miike risked with the project was being hailed as the Japanese Passolini.
Visitor Q doesn’t lack either for weirdness or technical quality. Starting with the latter, the performances by the cast are brave and committed. The digital videography is acceptable and appropriate to the subject matter. Miike knows how to build a scene; for example, there is a building black humor when the father decides to make love to his dead girlfriend’s corpse before cutting it up, and then discovers that he has overcome his premature ejaculation problem before things get really sticky. The family is also well individualized, with recognizable motivations for their perversions, although the characters are too bizarre, self-centered and callous to generate any sympathy, and their triumph over their personal issues is too nihilistically ironic to be moving. Miike does nail some memorably weird scenes: the family enjoying a quiet dinner while they are under assault from a gang of roman-candle wielding toughs, Visitor sitting with an umbrella to protect himself from Mother’s enthusiastic squirting, and the final image, which is at the same time strangely tender and utterly wrong.
The movie is at bottom a titillating parade of perversions, but Miike does make some feeble swipes at satire and social commentary as a justification. There is the background of the moral breakdown of Japanese youth, the suggestion that the family is secretly an abusive institution, and references to the corrupting influence of television and media. Father is a reality-TV show producer, and with Visitor’s help (he’s there to nonjudgementally film atrocities and handle the camera when dad needs his hands free to strangle someone), he turns his own family into the absurdly ultimate guilty pleasure reality show. The revelation, such as it is, is that when people know the camera is turned on them, their bad behavior turns worse. Visitor, who worms his way into the family unit by conking dad on the noggin a couple of times with a rock, could represent the influence of big media. He’s able to convince the smack-shooting, trick-turning Mother that she’s an ordinary woman after all, a reassurance that she could have equally well provided herself by watching episodes of Jerry Springer. His influence brings the family together (even uniting them with their lost daughter) and helps them connect, despite the assertion of the Son that Visitor has come to destroy their home. Just like TV.
Read literally, Miike’s 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. It’s hard to accept this literal reading, but a more uplifting metaphorical interpretation can’t be fashioned without serious straining. One could see the movie as reflecting the moral breakdown of the Japanese family and society, but with this kind of movie, there is always the sickening suspicion that it celebrates and perpetuates the perversion and immorality it pretends to condemn. It’s difficult to imagine that Miike didn’t have an erection when filming certain scenes.
Miike concedes his intention with Visitor Q 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. There is a niche audience out there, composed of the young, who adore offensive and disturbing films, movies that dares the viewer to congratulate themselves on being so hip and jaded that they aren’t offended by crossing moral boundaries, and can laugh at the unmentionable. Then, there are older viewers who have watched the subgenre of shock films trying to top themselves generation after generation—from Salo to Pink Flamingos to Visitor Q, as well as dozens of less-accomplished, crasser films. The truly hip and jaded aren’t offended by the content of these movies; they’re bored by the suggestion that purposeless taboo-breaking is enough of a reason for a work of art to exist.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
This movie was nominated for review by reader “Yamota.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.