The year 2001 defined wacko Japanese director Takashi Miike. His work ethic is nonstop, grinding out two or three movies a year on average. 1999's Audition was making its way through horror circles as a star title of the J-Horror/Asian horror scene and is the only such title that could never be remade like The Ring and The Grudge. On the other hand, they did it to
2001 defined TM through two incredibly violent and perverted movies, Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q, and this one: a family musical. There's no shortage of weird, but as my genre-adverse mother was able to watch this before I did I can safely say this is a Takashi Miike movie your mother could watch. In making such a life affirming film he gave himself the enigmatic aura of a director who can direct anything, from trendy children's fantasy epics to post modern westerns. An enviable position!
As the Katakuri clan's first customers arrive at their mountaintop bed & breakfast, they die, through no fault of the family's or their own. The family hides the bodies. The perspectives change - the divorcee daughter is looking for love with a royal naval officer, dad and mom are worried about the hotel and junior has just gotten out of jail so he's prime suspect when the first guest kicks off. The songs express feelings rather than move the story along and familial perspectives are given their due.
The weirdness what makes it all worthwhile comes unexpectedly and takes context only from the intent of the songs. When mom and dad sing about their years together and the future of their seemingly cursed hotel, the scene changes from their living room lobby to a 70s style karaoke stage with glittery lights and poofy hair, the way a karaoke stage would have been during their courtship. The lyrics are supered onscreen and highlight in yellow from left to right.
Every scene takes risks with stylization. There are songs in single rooms with flashing strobe lights, there are songs with actors flying on wires. There is a great big Sound of Music familial sing-along holding hands in the green hillside at the climax.
Asian cinema is so comfortable juggling genres within a single film, often over the span of mere minutes in one mood before another, as to put American films to shame when Quentin Tarantino, who has a part in Miike's recent postmodern western Sukiyaki Western Django, loudly proclaims the rare attempt at a psychotic hybrid of sickness and action like Kill Bill. Ichi and a legion of Asian trash effortlessly runs circles around the brain with their irreverence towards old world yakuza violence and outlandish perversion of the family in Visitor Q.
Happiness of the Katakuris taps the lighter, cuter side of Japan's dadaist pop culture into a fable and mediation on family ties and does so in a way that is pleasing to Asian trash junkies and moms alike.
Normality, cuteness, zombie dance. Detractors can call it random for random's sake, but it's not like those zombies weren't part of the story, they were the former hotel guests! If anyone can tell me what those random claymation alien angels were about, please drop me a line.