- Making the best of a bad situation
I had to watch The Happiness of the Katakuris twice to really get a handle on the movie. The first time through is such a shock to the system. Just about the time you think you have recovered, Takashi Miike throws you another curveball. The story itself is clever and relatively simple. It’s the way it’s told that leaves you feeling like you were mugged by a koala bear with a lead pipe.
The Katakuris, an extended family of six representing four generations, move to a rural corner of Japan. There they open a Bed and Breakfast together. Unfortunately, their guests tend to drop dead. Fearing the bad publicity will sink their dream of an independent life built together, they bury the corpses nearby and hope no one will notice. The Katakuris are not responsible for the deaths, mind. It’s just a run of horrible luck.
Like One Cut of the Dead, it’s difficult to discuss the The Happiness of the Katakuris without spoiling it. On second viewing, I found the film fully coherent, the character relationships complex, and the story very entertaining. But the movie violates so many expectations about what movies are and blends so many genres it’s hard to keep up the first time. I think that’s a large part of the charm, so I’ll just stop there.
If, on the other hand, you are familiar with Takashi Miike already, you might have an inkling of what you are in for. Miike is a bizarre and prolific director with well over a hundred productions to his name. His work ranges from light family-friendly comedy to highly-stylized, ultra-violent insanity. Ichi the Killer, one of his most notorious films, was released the same year. I have not watched even a fraction of Miike’s oeuvre, but I suspect Happiness has to fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. It is merely occasionally grotesque.
The oldest of the Katakuris, Great-grandfather Jinpei (Tetsurō Tamba), is a veteran Japanese actor, famous among English-speaking audiences for playing Tiger Tanaka alongside Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice. Love interest Richard is played by Japanese rock-star Kiyoshiro Imawano. He fronted RC Succession for twenty-three years, and in 1992 recorded an album and toured Japan with Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Yes, I have been making a monthly donation to Wikipedia for several years now.
The youngest, Yuri (Tamaki Miyazaki), is about pre-school age. She is adorable. She is also never in any danger in the movie. Nor is Pochi the dog. This is neither a pet-killing nor baby-murdering movie, and it’s not a spoiler to say so, so you’re safe there.
I really enjoy this movie, but it’s a weird one. It’s pretty easy to find. I watched it on Amazon Prime, but if it’s gone from there by the time you read this I bet one of your oddball friends can loan you a copy.