Ozaki in cleaner, calmer times. Courtesy of jupiter2.com
Gonzo for "Gozu"
It's amazing the turnout a film can get on a Tuesday evening. Even more so for the premiere of a film that has been given little to no advertising. With a small plug from the LA Weekly and advanced word of mouth buzz, hundreds of cinephiles made the trek to the Egyptian theater in Hollywood for the November 25th American premiere of the Takashi Miike film "Gozu". One of Japan's premier horror directors, Miike has garnered attention stateside with both his "Dead or Alive" trilogy of films and "Audition," an art house horror film that was released in 2001. Originally released as a straight to video movie in Japan, "Gozu's" producers opted to release the film theatrically in this country due to the burgeoning popularity of both Japanese horror movies like "Ringu" (later adapted to the American film "The Ring") and Miike's now famous idiosyncratic style. Miike has since completed two other films.
Surreal in its presentation, "Gozu" is a farcical mixture of Yakuza gangster film and supernatural mystery. It's the story of Minami- a young Yakuza underling who is given the order to execute his friend and mentor Ozaki after the latter begins to exhibit extremely erratic behavior. Minami reluctantly accepts the order to execute his "brother", a man who had once saved his life. En route to Minami carrying out his order, Ozaki mysteriously dies and his body then disappears outside of a secluded town. Minami must then search the town and its odd inhabitants for answers. Before he can unravel the mystery of his friend's disappearance he is confronted by among others: a sex-crazed, middle-aged woman with overactive mammories; a cross-dressing ghost; an autistic man who can communicate with the spirit world; and a cow-headed deity who may hold the answers that he is looking for. "Gozu" also offers what may be the most inventive, and certainly perverse, death scene in cinematic history. (Hint: It involves a ladle.)
"It's a love story... we hope you feel the same." Kana, "Gozu's" producer said with an ironic smile as she introduced the film. She added, "When we read the script we thought, 'Who would put money into this thing?'" Luckily for audiences the answer came in the form of her production company, Klockworx Films.
Beyond its silly exterior and over-the-top situations, "Gozu" manages to provide a rich, deeply engaging film. Full of colorful characters, it is also ripe with brilliant plot twists. The emergence of an enigmatic beauty late in the film's final act not only gives Minami the opportunity to grow in ways not previous thought, but also jolts the story with a twist that is not only shocking, but fitting to the film's style.
Bizarre? Certainly. Perverse? Hysterically so. (What other film in memory opens with a gangster twirling a Chihuahua violently against a widow pane to make sure it isn't trained to kill his boss?) But the true beauty of "Gozu" lies in those levels of sheer absurdity. It never takes itself too seriously. Unlike Lynchian films like "Mulholland Drive" or "The Lost Highway" that seem to revel in challenging your thought process, "Gozu" takes a different approach. It's absurd for the sake of absurdity and offers no apologies for it. The fun of the film is the chance to wait for what ridiculousness Miike throws at you next.
Audiences have never fully embraced surrealist cinema, Japanese or otherwise. Films by surrealist directors like David Lynch or Luis Bunuel have never fared well outside of art house circles. And while the turnout of viewers will almost certainly wane, "Gozu" shows more than enough potential here to be elevated to the ranks of midnight screenings alongside films like "Evil Dead" or "Army of Darkness". It's got cult status written all over it.
For more information on "Gozu" please visit the following sites:
December 12, 2003