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July 14, 2005


Gokudo kyofu dai-gekijo: Gozu
Takashi Miike - 2003
Pathfinder Region 1 DVD

Like many U.S. film viewers, my first encounter with Takashi Miike was with Audition. I was both horrified and fascinated by the finale that I viewed the ending scenes twice to verify what I had seen. While I saw Audition on DVD, I took advantage of seeing The Happiness of the Katakuris durings its brief theatrical run in Denver. The second string Denver Post critic indicated a total ignorance of Miike. The review was more of a list of scenes that upset this man's delicate sensibilities. I figured that any film that got an alleged film critic this offended was worth checking out. Since that time, I have learned to expect the unexpected with the transgressive films of Miike, and to know that he has a way of pushing people's buttons.

Gozu goes in several unexpected directions. The opening scene is of a yakuza, something like the Japanese equivalent of a wise guy, telling his boss not to take anything he is to say seriously. The yakuza, Ozaki, than states that the teacup size dog held by a woman outside the restaurant meeting place is actually a trained attack dog. Ozaki steps outside, grabs the dog, and swings it against the sidewalk and restaurant window to its death. In the next scene, another Minami is driving Ozaki from Tokyo to Nagoya with the assignment of disposing of the deranged gangster.

Once we are in Nagoya, reality and fantasy collide. Minami loses Ozaki, and encounters a burly transvestite, eccentric brother and sister inn keepers, and a man with a cow's head - the Gozu of the title. As explained in the DVD notes, a Gozu is a mythological creature from Buddhism, a guardian to the entrance of hell. Miike constantly undermines our expectations of what will happen from scene to scene. Characters are not always who or what they seem to be. What begins as a yakuza film veers into black comedy and horror before concluding into a trio of elliptical shots reminiscent of the Nouvelle Vague.

Miike has given much of the credit for Gozu to screenplay writer Sakichi Sato. Sato is best known to U.S. audiences for his role as Charlie Brown, the hapless restaurant owner in Kill Bill Volume 1. Sato appears in Gozu as the transvestite coffee shop manager. Much of the supporting cast is made up of veteran actors, the best known being Tetsuro Tamba, still active at age 82.

The DVD includes interviews with Miike which help explain the genesis of Gozu and give one a somewhat better understanding of Miike. Best are the discussions with fellow filmmakers Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy). Interestingly, the interviews touch on the possibility of Miike working in the U.S. While not on the scale of Takashi Shimizu remaking The Grudge as an English language film, Miike is to contribute an episode to the anthology Masters of Horror for cable channel Showtime. The results should be worth watching. Miike will both return to his straight-to-video roots and reach a larger, unsuspecting audience.

Posted by peter at July 14, 2005 04:17 PM