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With: Kiyoshiro Imawano, Keiko Matsuzaka, Tetsuro Tamba, Naomi Nishida, Kenji Sawada, Shinji Takeda, Naoto Takenaka
Written by: Kikumi Yamagishi
Directed by: Takashi Miike
MPAA Rating: R for violent images and some sexual content
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 113
Date: 10/31/2001

The Happiness of the Katakuris (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dead and Breakfast

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In "The Happiness of the Katakuris," which opens today at the Opera Plaza, a family opens a bed-and-breakfast out in the middle of the country in the hopes that a highway will soon be passing through. The few guests that do check in invariably die and the family members have to bury them in the back.

And it's a musical.

Still, if you go into this movie knowing anything at all about its director, Takashi Miike, it begins to make sense. I've seen four Miike movies in the past year, but that's not even as fast as he can make them. He routinely cranks out up to six movies in a year and has made something like eight since "Katakuris" wrapped.

His horror film "Audition" moved at a glacial pace, carefully revealing its horror by suddenly twisting time and reality in its final quarter. But his "Dead or Alive" opened with the most astonishing five minutes I've seen in a long while -- including the image of yellow soup pouring out of a shotgun hole in a man's stomach -- and ended with the destruction of the world. And as for "Ichi the Killer," well, that one just has to be seen to be believed.

The Katakuris consist of the grandfather (Tetsuro Tanba, a veteran of over 100 films including "Kwaidan" and "You Only Live Twice"), his son (Kenji Sawada), his son's wife (Keiko Matsuzaka), and three grandkids (Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida and little Yuri).

Their first customer commits suicide in his room, leading to a purposely overwrought music video-like sequence in which the family members clutch at their heads and scream to the heavens. They decide to bury him and return just in time to find two more customers -- a sumo wrestler and his tiny girlfriend.

As you might expect, one of them has a heart attack and the other one winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Meanwhile, the twentysomething daughter (Shinji Takeda) falls in love with a dangerous con man (Kiyoshiro Imawano) posing as a respected member of the military. When grandfather figures out the man's true identity, they begin to fight, but Miike switches to claymation to depict the struggle.

Which brings me to the film's opening five minutes, shown as a combination of real life and claymation: a girl in a restaurant finds a small creature in her soup. When she screams, the creature bites her uvula off and flies off with it. What this has to do with the rest of the movie I'll never know, but it's a hell of an opening.

The film's power lies in its endless pool of twisted imagination. It counts on the fact that we have no idea what's going to come next. One moment the film resembles "The Sound of Music" and the next, "The Return of the Living Dead."

Miike is probably also counting on the fact that even if you've seen his other films, they won't help you one whit. This is a whole new ball game. He's obviously a guy who doesn't like to tread over the same territory.

Most Hollywood blockbusters take this same tack, attempting to knock us off balance long enough to realize that the movie doesn't have much behind it. But Hollywood's idea is to use the same old stuff that worked last year, and none of it surprises. That's Miike's gift; he not only surprises you the moment the credits roll, he continues to surprise you long after the movie ends and before the next one starts.

DVD Details: Extras include a full length audio commentary by director Miike (dubbed), a 60-minute "making of" featurette with English subtitles, a 33-minute dubbed interview with Miike, and trailers for The Happiness of the Katakuris, Audition and Mission of the Black Rose.

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