A perfect film for those who like their musicals black with comedy.
What They Say
The Katakuris are a four-generation family of failures (grandfather, father and mother, children, and granddaughter, who narrates the film) who use the father's redundancy pay to buy a guest house in the country. Somehow, each of their guests ends up dead - by suicide, accident, or murder - and once they have made the decision to save their business by burying the bodies and concealing the deaths, they find themselves sucked into a nightmare of lies and fear.
None of this is helped by the arrival of the daughter's con-man boyfriend, an escaped murderer with police in hot pursuit, and an erupting volcano.
The film itself contains only one track for the feature and that is Japanese 2.0. The presentation does a nice job with the dialogue being primarily center speaker driven but music and effects coming from the side and back speakers as well. No drop outs or distortions presented themselves during playback.
Originally released in 2001 the film is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. The film has not transferred the best as there are moments of aliasing and color bleed in certain scenes.There is a decent amount of film grain as well. Out side of this most of the colors are clean and vibrant where applicable and it pulls off the darker lit scenes without significant problems.
The packaging features a shot of the family in the film running against a mountainous background hand in hand in a shot that looks inspired by the Sound of Music. The blue sky overhead however is a blue tinged shot of some zombies from one point in the film and a close up on some eyes from one of the effects shot. The title is written in red and is a bit wavy which is a nice metaphor for the film. The back has an claymation effect shot from the film with a small monster tearing the uvula out of a woman and her screaming in the same blue manner as the zombies on the front cover and then 3 stills from the movie-2 with the family and one with the zombies. The packaging a bit misleading in that it gives the impression that monsters and zombies will play a large part in the film but they really do not.
The main menu has a shot of the family standing together on a field with a rainbow over part of them and a tree on the right side foreground of the picture. The shot shifts slightly while one of the upbeat musical tracks from the film plays trying to give a pseudo 3-D feel to the screen. The language selection has the close up of a monster from the films mouth but no music. The extras section has a shot of some (dead) heads and a darker in nature musical track from the movie playing. The scene selection has a shot from a musical number with 2 characters in wedding clothes (both white colored) with them inverted and having their heads on each others shoulders with a trippy space and flower background taken from the film along with a very up beat track from that part of the film. The menu is quick to respond to selections.
The first extra is a standard making of documentary where questions are posted on the screen and various actors or the director Takashi Miike answer them inter-spaced with making of footage that shows shots being set up and some of the gags and the like that happen during the filming. The next extra is shots of the claymation from the film and a piece talking with the people in charge of that and showing how they went through putting the figures together and a little of how filming such things works. Also included are 6 interviews with the director and various actors talking about the film. The final extra is to be found in the language track menu as they have a commentary track with director Takashi Miike and accompanying commentary subtitles.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film opens in a high class hotel's restaurant with an odd looking foursome entering the room and then focuses on a young woman who just ordered some soup. As she tries to eat it she discovers a small claymation monster in her soup. She screams and the whole scene goes claymation and the monster goes into her mouth and rips out her uvula, which then flies away as the monster chases it outside. This starts a strange little claymation scene opening with the monster being eaten by a crow, the crow by another monster and other oddities until the crow flies over the head of an old man who turns live action and hits it with a stick he throws at it. From here a young girl (Yurie) is seen to be digging in the dirt to bury her goldfish. The narration starts as we discover the film is a story told by the little girl (Yurie) when she grows up. The opening narration questions what makes a family as it is comprised of different people each with their own motivations. The film pans and introduces the viewer to the family. The first two shown are a 20 something brother (Masayuki) and sister (Shizue the young girl's mother) pair having a fight and picking at each others weak points-he that she is divorced and that she falls in love too easily and she that he spent time in jail. Their father (the narrator's grandfather) tries to break it up and the narrator explains he was a department shoe store clerk before being laid off. He has now bought a guesthouse type inn in a remote area as he heard a major road was to be built nearby and he brought/kind of forced his family to come along to help him run it. The great-grandfather seems to spend his days telling lies and throwing large bits of wood at crows as they fly overhead. There is tension in the air as they have yet to have even a single guest despite the work they put in. The grandfather is certain people will come and a group of four spiritualists from the restaurant opening show up just as there is an eclipse and start engaging in ominous and bizarre behavior that serves as a bit of a foreshadow of things to come.
The film then shifts to show the family minus the grandfather eating dinner together and showing off some quirks when Yurie asks about a deer head on the wall. The great-grandfather starts lying about it and the others lie as well to the girl (not in an unfriendly way, just the talking down to a child way adults often engage in). They also shift to carrying on other conversations as family while watching TV at the table. There is a storm outside and the power suddenly goes out just as the grandfather finally gets to the dining room and more surprisingly a guest finally arrives. The guest finds himself practically drowning in attention as the whole family tries to show him hospitality. The guest goes to his room and starts to have a vision of himself floating through the universe when Masayuki interrupts him with the beer he ordered and the guest asks Masayuki what he would do if he were to die tomorrow. Masayuki is thrown off by the question and has no good comeback to that. In the morning Shizue and Yurie go to town before the rest of the family discovers (in full musical number) the guest committed suicide-using the room key's large handle to do it. The family talks about calling the police but the grandfather refuse to let them since the guest left no note and he doesn't want it known their first guest killed himself...that and the suspicion that Masayuki might have done it since the guest wallet is missing. The grandfather then makes the decision and gets everyone present to cooperate in the act of burying the guest (in musical fashion).
Meanwhile in town Shizue is looking to fall in love-and does with a sharp dressed man in a Naval uniform (cue musical number) named Richard Sagawa who then explains he is with the US navy..no, more precisely with Britain's Royal Navy and also a secret agent. He then goes on impressing her with a string of lies any person with any character judgment could see a mile and a half off. He promises to call her and then departs.
The next day a sumo wrestler and his young girlfriend arrive at the guesthouse to have a tryst well away from prying eyes. The morning after things are complicated when they discover the wrestler died of a heart attack crushing the girlfriend just as the local constable arrives to check in with them and hand out a wanted poster that no one looks at which includes Richard's picture. The family decides to bury the wrestler and his girlfriend as doing such an act once makes it easier to rationalize repeating.
Tee arrival of some more guests has the grandfather has a flashback recalling (in musical number) the day they arrived and how he stressed the importance of living together as a family as an ominous volcano in the background rumbles and smokes. The film then picks up with Richard arriving and finding the suicide victim's wallet and another peril assaults the family as the new road that was rumored will be built near where the bodies have been hidden and possibly discovered. The danger starts to build to a precipitous level with these new guests and the troubles they bring which come to a head when the police arrive explaining a body was found nearby.
The film is a dark piece that at the same time makes light of the death that surrounds the place but also stresses the bonds and importance of family. It has some fabulous musical numbers that are really well presented and also stand on their own as just fun and often are comprised of catchy musical numbers. Also there should be praise to Eastern Star for getting and translating the director's commentary as these are often fun for gaining insight into the film and the mindset behind events. There are a few downsides to be found such as the bizarre claymation bits that just don't seem terribly necessary and an end set up that reminds the viewer that this is indeed a Miike film in its oddness. Also for a film that has as many references to zombies in the copy and cover and starts with a bizarre opening with a monster they really are no more than brief moments that come off as surreal so people looking for zombies will likely be disappointed.
The Happiness Of The Katakuris is a dark musical in the spirit of Little Shop of Horrors where people start to justify a terrible act and that makes the next one easier to repeat. The fact that the film does this while also delivering a positive message about the strength and importance of family with some wonderful musical numbers will likely delight those who enjoy a dark musical but also like to see an upbeat and positive vibe.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Original Trailer, Commentary from Takashi Miike, Interview with Takashi Miike, Making of Special, Interviews with the Katakuris, Animating the Katakuris
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Reciever with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, JVC DVD player XV-FA95GD