Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Favourite Film of the Decade #2 - Happiness of the Katakuris

Almost there.

Very few films on my list, or that I have ever viewed for that matter, have been life changers. Heck, most of us non-censorship advocates maintain that it is impossible for a movie to change one's life. I guess I'm lucky that the film that changed my life wasn't August Underground (well, it kinda did. It made me reluctant to watch films with the words "August" and "Underground" in them), but the incredible Happiness of the Katakuris.

Without going into it too much, there was a time in my life that, I guess it could be said, I was mostly unhappy. I wasn't doing it on purpose, it's just how things worked out. I got enjoyment from films, comics, novels, etc, but not much from humanity. I had friends that I dug hanging around with, and I did love my family, but there was no real joy there. Only problem though is, I was content to be unhappy, I didn't even really recognize it as a big problem. In fact, wasn't seeking happiness kind of selfish anyway?

But then, one of my favourite filmmakers came swooping down with the hugely entertaining, joyful and endearing movie called Happiness of the Katakuris. I cannot tell a lie, what struck me upon first viewing was the creativity Takashi Miike had when telling this story, blending comedy, musical numbers, stop motion, zombies and pitch black humour into what was essentially, a very optimistic/tragic tale of a father striving for happiness despite whatever horrific thing life throws at him.

The film is a remake of the excellent Korean film The Quiet Family, and it involves Mr. Katakuri purchasing a guest house on a mountain where he hopes a major highway will be going by sometime in the future. He relocates his family: Mrs. Katakuri, Grandpa, Son, Daughter and Granddaughter, in hopes that they will live happily and comfortably ever after. The only problem is that their guests, as few as there are, keep dying, and when is that highway going to be coming through? What follows is an imaginative and hilarious film about the family's struggles to bury all unhappiness (or corpses) and try and maintain their ideal of what a good life is. Eventually it all comes to a head in a climax that's as bizarre as it is wonderful.

Miike, who's mostly known in North America for shocking the audience, does not hold back at all during the film (However, I disagree with a lot of critics who claim that Miike is just a shockmeister. He never just thoughtlessly throws horrific or crazy moments in his film, they really do make the film what it is; a Takashi Miike film). I found every scene wonderful, whether it be the wacky musical numbers or an outtake Miike kept in the film of the actor playing the son cracking up during a take. Also, I have a love of films that involve something I consider extremely important in life; family. Miike has handled family stories very well in other movies (I also find Visitor Q very touching) but I really love how he tells this story. It actually seems Japan is the country with the best movies about family, from early Ozu right on to Tokyo Sonata.

When I rewatched the film I was really struck by the father's struggles to make his and his family's lives happy. It seemed like such a noble struggle even when the odds were stacked against him. It made me think of my own life, and the many ways I sabotaged my own happiness. I, like a lot of people, was content with the hand that I assumed was dealt to me, and lived day to day that way. Shortly thereafter I became determined to be happy. One definite way was to find love, which I went in search of. To cut to the chase, it worked out well and my life has changed for the better. Thanks Miike.

I'm not guaranteeing that Happiness of the Katakuris will change your life, but I'd be surprised if anyone absolutely hated it. They'd really have to be a miserable bastard to hate this ode to joy.


  1. I just discovered and reviewed this movie thanks to a recommendation from a good old twitter friend, and I also fell in love with it. It's such a darn happy film, with a genuinely nice and loving family in a unique lil situation. Nice pick.

  2. Thanks, I agree it's probably the "nicest" film I've ever seen.

  3. Fascinating review. I've only seen one Miike film (unsurprisingly, it was Ichi the Killer). But I've known for a long time that his filmography is very diverse, and that he never seems to make a bad movie. In my case, there wasn't really a movie that "changed my life", but I suppose A Beautiful Mind comes the closest. If I ever write a review of that movie, I will say how the movie impacted me, but it might be a story I will never want to share publicly.