By Matt Keay
To call The Happiness of the Katakuris a family drama would be to diminish its heart. To refer to it as a black comedy, however, would be to take away from the baffling and beautiful aspects of a film that contains a subplot of a Japanese confidence man claiming to be the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth II.
Takashi Miike’s frankly bonkers 2001 musical/animation/love story/drama deals with the perils of setting up a bed and breakfast where the guests die surreal deaths. The Katakuris decide to open a guesthouse in the country near the site of a new road, hoping that it will bring plenty of custom to their enterprise. When the road never materialises, however, the family begin in vain to wonder if the business will succeed, until customers start to appear, and consequently die, prompting the Katakuris to question if they’ll ever be happy again.
The Happiness Of The Katakuris was one of seven films Takashi Miike directed in 2001, and each was as unhinged as the last, but only this one featured kinky sex AND a Rogers & Hammerstein homage. I was working at Blockbuster when the film was released on DVD, and made a point of recommending it to everyone I possibly could (along with Visitor Q, another of Miike’s brain-battering 2001 output), if only to judge/revel in their reaction when they returned the box, quivering and glassy-eyed, changed from how they were before.
The film is a remake of a very successful Korean comedy by Ji Woon Kim, The Quiet Family, with a few tweaks in Miike’s inimitable style. Any ostensible structure comes from the narration of a five year-old, and the visual barrage that spills from the screen is relentless from start to finish. The viewer is treated to claymation interludes and musical numbers ‘celebrating’ the deaths of the guests in zany faux-Oompa Loompa style. It is inspired madness that begs to be seen, if not experienced. It is so theatrical, so forced, that it is difficult to resist as a piece of unique cinema, which as a feather in its cap contains a wonderfully unexpected and moving ending, which brings together this genre-busting madcap romp.
The Arrow Dual-Format release contains three commentary tracks; one from Miike himself, another which, bizarrely, translates the previous commentary into English, even including the vocal stumblings and ‘spontaneous’ observations. Strange idea, but interesting, nonetheless. The third is by Tom Mes, a Miike expert.
Rounding out the supplements are fifteen or so minutes of informative interviews, a visual essay by Tom Mes entitled Dogs, Pimps, And Agitators, a short look at the animation, a lengthy chat with Miike about the making of the film, and a 30 minute behind-the-scenes peek into the production.
In summary, if you’re into Miike’s previous work, or even if you’re just a mite curious, The Happiness of The Katakuris will provide a mind-bending insight into the brain of a innovative and unyielding director. Recommended.