The Happiness of the Katakuris

on August 15, 2002 by Chris Wiegand
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Takashi Miike, one of Japanese cinema's most idiosyncratic and audacious practitioners, makes an average of over four films a year. It's hardly surprising that they're often uneven affairs. Miike is best known for cult successes like the atmospheric "Audition" and the kinetic thriller "Dead Or Alive." Fans of these features may at first be surprised by "The Happiness Of The Katakuris," an off-the-wall musical horror that wears a little thin (at 110 minutes it's far too long) yet hits the mark more often than it misses.

A clan of hardworking hoteliers, the Katakuri family seemingly has very little to be happy about. Their picturesque inn, nestled in an attractive mountainous landscape, is losing guests fast. First an enigmatic loner tops himself in his room then a rippling sumo wrestler crushes his slender girlfriend to death during some over-enthusiastic coupling.

Such activities are bad for business and the highly-strung head of the household struggles to conceal the evidence. However, a snooping police officer soon shows up to investigate and there are also some deep-seated familial frictions to contend with; Katakuri junior is an ex-con who hasn't managed to shake off his wayward past, while his sister will do anything to find a boyfriend.

In this genre-bending celebration of family values, Miike delivers an imaginative and deliciously delirious mixture of jet black humor and schlock horror. He also pays tribute to a number of diverse influences. Intermittent, clumsily incorporated episodes of claymation recall Jan Svankmajer ("Little Otik") while some stylized song-and-dance routines bring to mind both "The Sound Of Music" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" promo. Other irreverent musical sequences embrace power ballad pomp and Village People camp.

Miike brings a little too much toilet humor to the table but there's always something to marvel at here, whether it be the melodramatic acting, the picture postcard color scheme or the director's admirable independent spirit. Starring Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida and Tetsuro Tanba. Directed by Takashi Miike. Written by Kikumi Yamagishi. Produced by Tetsuo Sasho and Hirotsugu Yoshida. Japanese-language; subtitled. A Vitagraph release. Comedy/Horror/Musical. Not yet rated. Running time: 110 min

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