THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001) Review

akaKATAKURI-KE NO KOFUKU
Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Ai Kennedy (translation), Kikumi Yamagishi (screenplay)
Starring Kanji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Tetsuro Tanba

What do you seek out horror films for? Some for the perverse thrill of seeing others suffer instead of ourselves. Some as a release of tension. Some for fuel for nightmares. Even some look at it as inspiration. I can’t say that I’ve ever walked away from a horror film feeling upbeat and chipper, but I sure did when the credits started rolling for Takashi Miike’s masterpiece mash-up of all forms of cinema, THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS. You can say you’ve seen a boatload of horror films, but until you’ve seen this one, you definitely haven’t seen it all. Miike is one of those filmmakers that make my ears perk whenever I hear about one of his projects. He’s been a director known for taking chances and following a path all his own when it comes to characters and the stories he puts them through. AUDITION, ICHI THE KILLER, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO, GOZU; the list goes on and in each of these films, Miike makes his presence known and you almost always walk away seeing something you have never seen before.

How do I describe THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS?

Well, on the DVD box it describes itself as THE SOUND OF MUSIC meets DAWN OF THE DEAD, and I guess that’s about as accurate description as any. THE HAPPINESS OF KATAKURIS is a mix of animation, claymation, and live action. It borrows from horror, family drama, romantic fiction, and musicals. So in any given scene you could have a cute little Japanese girl licking a lollipop, a claymation bird snatching a white angel/demon who makes off with a woman’s uvula when she screams upon seeing the angel/demon in her soup bowl, a family happily singing and dancing across a countryside, and a zombie sumo wrestler crushing a Sailor Moon lookalike under his girth. If this juxtaposition of imagery doesn’t surprise you, then you are either Takashi Miike or in need of some serious meds.

A multi-generational family is destitute and their main source of income is to take travelers in as lodgers along a worn country road. But things seem to be looking up as a bigger road is going to be made and it runs right past the Katakuri household meaning mo’ travellers and mo’ money! Of course, folks have a tendency to move into the Katakuri household, but they rarely live past the first night. But it’s not the family killing them. The lodgers, for one reason or another, just end up killing themselves or suffering from fatal accidents. Soon the family is doing all they can to stop people from staying at their place to prevent more deaths.

Did I mention this was a musical?

Throughout the entire film, folks bust out into huge singing and dancing numbers. Some of them are catchy, some not so much, but points for Miike pulling this off. If anything, the dance and musical numbers are the highlight of the film. Though the actors clearly are actors and not singers, all of them seem to carry a decent tune. The highlight number is a melodic exchange between the widowed daughter of Papa Kayakuri and a mysterious stranger she meets in a town restaurant. The sequence harkens back to 50’s & 60’s musicals with the music and dances chosen and showcases Miike’s superior range behind the camera.

The use of claymation was the true highlight of the film for me. Remember the scene in I’M GONNA GET YOU SUCKA when the old black lady does the fight sequence and it is clearly a white guy with a moustache wearing an old lady costume doing the flips and punches? Well, think that, except when there is a call for something that requires the actors to do something dangerous, they switch to claymation instead. There’s a perilous fight on the side of the cliff that switches from live action to claymation in a beat. The switch is both hilarious and ingenious making up for what looks to be a pretty small budget.

My main problem with this film is that it is somewhat disjointed. Did the angel/demon found in the soup at the beginning of the movie have something to do with the deaths? Maybe. Probably. But it’s never really alluded to. Everything sort of just ends in a big dance number without answering many questions and upon asking specific questions about the outcomes of some of the characters, I found myself not knowing how their story ended. There is some kind of resolution in the end and with a title like THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS it’s not a shocker that this is a happy ending. But with all of the different genres and scenes Miike squishes together, it serves more as a grab bag of fun and positive energy, where elements of story aren’t as important as the fun you have watching the film.

And I challenge folks not to have fun watching THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS. It’s the kind of film you see playing in a bar with loud music blaring in the background to make folks scratch their heads and say to their intoxicated friend, “What the fuck is this?” Shit like that thrills me. And so does THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS.

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