Movie: The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

One of the weirdest movies I love is 1977’s House, a Japanese movie that I can’t describe any better than Criterion’s assessment of “like Scooby Doo by way of Mario Bava.”  I have seen some other deeply bizarre cinema from Japan (I’m looking at you, Tetsuo: The Iron Man), but I never thought I would ever encounter anything as strange as that 70’s film.  2001’s The Happiness of the Katakuris doesn’t quite clear that bar, but it has come the closest of any other film to date. 

The plot has a family buy a house in the Japanese countryside and turn it into a bed and breakfast, under the belief a new road will be coming to the area.  That road hasn’t happened yet, and they are too far off the beaten path to get any guests.

That is, until the day their first guest arrives, a depressed man who commits suicide in his room.  When the family discovers the body, the entire style of the scene changes.  Suddenly, the look becomes that of a bad stage production, with each member of the family striking different poses, each with their own spotlight.

The sudden and radical changes in style are one of the few constants of this picture.  It is very consistent in its inconsistency.  There are several momentary lapses into Claymation.  There are also several musical numbers, especially whenever the family has a body they have to bury.

And they will have to bury several bodies over the course of the runtime—not that they harm anybody, but people keep arriving at this bed and breakfast, only to die in bizarre ways that are self-inflicted or accidental.

Oh, and there’s also an active volcano nearby.  And those lapses into stop motion occasionally focus on a bizarre little flying demon that, in the opening scene, falls in love with a diner’s uvula and kills her when he absconds with the object of his desire.  And the eldest daughter falls in love with seemingly every available guy she meets, especially a fake naval commander who claims to be a relation to Queen Elizabeth.  And there’s a scene where the audience is encouraged to sing along as if this is karaoke.  And there’s a completely throwaway moment of a silhouette of bunnies fucking as backlit by the full moon.

Anywho: stuff upon stuff upon stuff.  There is so much content, and of such a wide variety, that some of it sticks better than others.  I suspect opinions will vary greatly between viewers as to which aspects of this work best.  It reminded me of the weird stack of objects on the cover of the Rolling Stones’s Let It Bleed.

Probably my favorite moment is a musical interlude where the eldest daughter first sees the fake navy guy.  It’s like a parody of something from Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and it is only happening in her mind.  When it’s done, it looks like she has a seizure and collapses on the ground, with everybody from her imaginary musical number standing around and looking at her in bafflement.  It’s like we’re seeing actors in a movie waiting for the director to call the scene.

The Happiness of the Katakuris is a Takaski Miike picture.  I haven’t seen much of his work, and I don’t intend to seek out some of the more notorious pieces in his oeuvre.  Still, I liked Katakuris more than I expected.  The only Japanese movie I have seen that is weirder than this is House, and yet Miike’s film surprised me by being warmer and gentler than that picture. 

Dir: Takashi Miike

Starring Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda

Watched on Arrow Video blu-ray