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The Happiness Of The Katakuris

Working at the extreme ends of the pleasure-pain continuum, with little patience for any of the emotions in between, Japanese horror master Takashi Miike approaches filmmaking like a great S&M artist, allowing no release before a few sharp stings of the whip. His usual order of business is to chase one audacious visceral shock with another until he reaches the pain threshold—at which point the most grisly scenarios begin to seem funny or erotic. But last year's superb Audition found Miike tossing unacquainted ingredients into a strange and original genre stew, marrying his signature chicanery to a domestic melodrama with the austerity of Yasujiro Ozu. That same spirit of experimentation informs The Happiness Of The Katakuris, a joyously demented musical-comedy built on a macabre foundation, like The Sound Of Music with a kickline of corpses. In some respects, it's the flip side to Lars Von Trier's Dancer In The Dark, combating an accumulation of hardships with song-and-dance, yet miraculously steering the tone toward bliss instead of tragedy. On a remote country plot nestled among rolling hills and mountain peaks, the Katakuri family pursues its shared dream of opening a quaint guesthouse for tourists. They each have reason to escape their former lives: After the humiliation of getting fired from a job as a shoe salesman, Kenji Sawada puts all his retirement money in the venture, dragging his wife (Keiko Matsuzaka), his senile father (Tetsuro Tamba), and his granddaughter with him. Also included are his two grown-up children, a moody son (Shinji Takeda) with an addiction to petty theft and a sweet-natured daughter (Naomi Nishida) still reeling from a marriage gone sour. Their bad fortune gets worse when their first guest commits suicide, followed shortly by the death of a Sumo wrestler looking for a good time with his underage girlfriend. Rather than call the police and ruin their new business, the Katakuris decide to quietly dispose of the mounting pile of bodies. Against this grim backdrop, Miike's indomitable characters burst into fantasy and song, swept along by a sunny-side optimism that's cheerfully oblivious to a dire set of circumstances. Miike isn't exactly Stanley Donen, but his simple and unrefined choreography has an element of spontaneity that's consistently surprising and delightful, as if it's been improvised on the spot. Against bold swatches of primary colors, his musical numbers are so bright they seem every bit as twisted as his gruesome horror fantasies, with leaps that defy gravity and float into the cosmos, and even a few inspired forays into claymation. But through all the riotous camp, Miike is genuinely engaged in the family's grand, foolish dreams of mending their dysfunction and starting a new life together. Even if the road to happiness is littered with unsightly obstacles, he makes it one worth taking.


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