At one point in the supplemental interview included on Chimera’s The Happiness of the Katakuris DVD, Japanese enfant terrible Takashi Miike explains that he finds most people’s attitude toward death to be incorrect. According to Miike, death is the happy culmination of a life, provided it’s well lived; in interviews he explains that he always feels completely out of place at funerals. In that respect, the bemused, practically abstracted approach to the mysterious deaths that surrealistically punctuate Katakuris (one of the director’s eight films made in 2001) must be thought of as being the closest approximation to the life ethos of Miike, and not the more bleak outlook of his more famous Audition and Visitor Q. Based closely on Ji Woon Kim’s Quiet Family (a new cult classic in Japan), the film tells the bizarre tale of the luckless Katakuri family, who run a guest house in rural Japan that is without guests. And when guests finally do start to trickle in, they invariably wind up dead by morning. But in the twisted logic of the film, it doesn’t take much moral deliberation before the family is pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and digging up a secret cemetery by the backyard lake. All throughout their misadventures, the Katakuris engage in incongruous musical numbers. Death is but a transitory state, as demonstrated in one funky dance routine that finds the common ground between Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video and Dancer in the Dark‘s “Smith & Wesson” sequence in which the guiltless family engages in a production number with the decomposing corpses. Working the pop-culture treasure chest like a flea market, Miike melds Svankmajer-inspired clay animation and hair metal video light-and-fog (even working in an out-of-nowhere marriage-affirming karaoke ballad) into a completely unique canapé. The film’s exuberance is so irrepressible that some subplots, one involving a pedophiliac Sumo wrestler and another a mush-mouthed con can (Japanese rock star Kiyoshiro Imawano) who claims to be a half-blood relative of the Royal Family, seem to fall by the wayside.
The serous cinematography of Hideo Yamamoto (who also lensed Takeshi Kitano's Fireworks in addition to some of Miike's recent films) is given a vibrant transfer here. Imawano's campy seduction number "I Love You" is rendered in luscious sherbert oranges and purples that simply pop off the television screen. And the final panorama, which knowingly apes the fresh air high of The Sound of Music's opening sequence, is so enameled that it might as well be a Windex commercial. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is extraordinarily crisp, especially during the tweeter-tickling musical interludes, which were seemingly recorded in extremely close conditions. An overall wonderful looking and sounding disc.
An audio commentary by Miike (in Japanese but with a very natural-sounding English translation) gives an exclusive peek into the hyper-prolific auteur's peculiar method. To wit, use the outtake fodder. In a dinner scene, Takeda busts out laughing when Tamba hams up his lines to the point of spitting his food all over the floor. Another anecdote explains that Miike worked an extraneous solar eclipse into the storyline to justify shooting at night to stay on shooting schedule. Miike explains how it seemed so much more real and emphasized the actors' validity as a family unit. The commentary track is never dry and often a joy to listen to, as Miike and the film critic who joins him are full of tongue-in-cheek one-liners (at one point they joke that Tamba has died since the film's evidently relentless shoot). As if the commentary didn't provide enough insight into the making of Katakuris, there's also a generous hour-long documentary, half of which is devoted to short cuts depicting the making of, the other half composed of interviews with cast members and a look at the filming of the clay sequences. There's yet another 30 minute's worth of interview material from Miike which is a bit less spunky than the commentary (though he does explain why he bleaches his hair and hides under B-Boy clothes). Rounding out the extras are trailers for three Miike films and two upcoming Chimera releases.
Happiness of the Katakuris is probably the film best equipped to fill that black-camp-karaoke-musical-horror-claymé-domestic-dramedy void in your DVD library.