Gozu (2003)
By: Mr Intolerance on March 28, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 129 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Hideki Sone, Sho Aikawa, Kimika Yoshino, Shohei Hino, Keiko Tomita, Harumi Sone, Renji Ishibashi
Screenplay: Sakichi Sato
Country: Japan
And just when you think you know Miike's films…

The back cover of Siren's Region 4 edition of this totally bizarre, if not utterly unfathomable film has a quote from the BBC's Jamie Russell: "To say Gozu steps beyond the bounds of sanity is rather like saying that Jeffrey Dahmer had unusual dietary habits." I really couldn't put it better myself.

While we all know Miike has a reputation for the perverse, the unexpected and the, at time, utterly deranged (fuck off - go and watch Visitor Q, The Happiness of the Katakuris, Fudoh: The Next Generation and Ichi the Killer and then get back to me – you back? Good. Let's go to work.), Gozu (literal translation: cow-head) takes us into a surreal nightmare via David Lynch's stranger and more wilfully absurd (and at times blackly funny) moments.

The plot is deceptively simple: Minami, a small cog in the big yakuza machine, is given an order he's not too keen on: kill his boss and friend Ozaki, and dispose of the body. Now, Minami's not a bad fella, and is understandably not too keen on doing so, But orders are orders, and so, conflicted by his sense of where his loyalties lie, off he goes. Mind you, his boss has been acting awfully strangely of late… His blackly hilarious, ludicrous, brutal and disturbing (not to mention rather "hands on") slaying of a Chihuahua he's identified as an attack dog trained to kill yakuza "made men" at the beginning of the film is a prime example of his weirdness, and a laugh out loud moment of Miike brilliance.

Minami drives Ozaki out to Nagoya, in the country, ostensibly to take care of business, but things don't really go to plan and Ozaki goes missing. Minami searches for him desperately through a town that makes Twin Peaks look like Pleasantville, and things take a left hand turn into the practically demented; not in the Visitor Q style, but much like Mulholland Drive – questioning what's going on in terms of actual levels of reality – is what we are seeing actually happening? Or is it Minami's subjective perspective on the events, given the heightened sense of paranoia and claustrophobia he feels engendered by his betrayal (or possibly not) of Ozaki?

This is a film I don't want to give away too much of. Sometimes it drifts into the whole "weirdness for weirdness' sake" vibe, at others it is quite seriously addressing notions of how people can't communicate any more (of how language is inadequate in doing so), of loyalty and distrust, of redemption, identity, sexuality, duty and friendship, as well as the inability of spirituality to provide answers, the lack of personal connection and notions of re-birth. There's a similar dichotomy in the violence – at times brutal and horrific, at others, Three Stooges-style slapstick (at others, both) – the laughs are sometimes very guilty ones indeed.

Miike's usual visual flair is all over this film like a rash. It looks fantastic, but the narrative (or what passes for it) moves at a snail's pace. Like other visually enticing yet almost plotless films (Eraserhead, El Topo and Begotten all spring pretty readily to mind), you can experience this film, but not necessarily engage with it.

And, as always, Miike throws in the weird shit – sometimes, I think – purposefully for the sole purpose of making his audience say to themselves, "What the fuck?!" Examples: a yakuza boss who screws his missus with a soup ladle wedged firmly up his arse, male-to-female and female-to-male transvestites, an enigmatic man with a lack of facial pigment (who when we first meet him appears to be reading porno films in the middle of a paddock), a lactating landlady, and of course, a drooling bull-headed (literally!) man in y-fronts. Oh, and the worst case of Cleopatra-grip I've ever seen – yeeesh!

Once we follow Minami to Nagoya to enlist the aid of aid of the boss of the Shiroyama crew, the film gets a new lease of life – briefly. But to me, the level of engagement with Gozu never reaches a satisfying pitch. Sure, more weirdness ensues – bogus spirit incantations, a very unique spin on the milk-producing business, late-era Lynchian style dialogue which sounds portentous and nonsensical at the same time – but all over, you tend to endure this film with grudging tolerance, rather than accept it willingly and with open metaphorical – and metaphysical – arms.
Good, and the yellowish tint to almost everything helps to establish kind of grimy image. Can't be faulted. Although the white subtitles in the featurette were a bit difficult to read.
Again, no probs – and the rather foreboding score tended to remind me of the scores used by the Brothers Quay, or some of Angelo Badalamenti's scores for David Lynch's films, especially Eraserhead.
Extra Features
Japanese trailer – big whoop. I'd just watched the film.

Production featurette – This was pretty standard, and didn't really offer any interesting insights. This, to me, was a shame. Some kind of offering from Miike might have really helped my understanding of/reaction to the film. Basically, a bunch of moving snapshots of the production – a few goof-offs – but nothing that would rock the world of even the most die-hard Miike fan.
The Verdict
If you haven't seen a Takashi Miike film, do NOT start with this one. Start with Audition, or, if it's carnage you're after, Ichi the Killer. Gozu is a film for Miike die-hards, and (if you count yourself one like me), even so you might find it heavy going. It has the same vibe as Lost Highway, or Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (certainly not two of Lynch's more accessible films), and as such is not for those looking for a popcorn movie. Gozu requires attention and intellectual involvement. I managed to cope with about half of it (feeling adrift and somewhat mystified in the other half), but still think it needed to be at least half an hour shorter. All of that said, the last ten minutes of Gozu will definitely leave you confronted and amazed – if not totally bewildered.   
Movie Score
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