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Takashi Miike is
arguably the hardest working man in cinema. Since
1991, hes directed over 60 features in his native Japan, often releasing five films
a year during periods of (for him) only modest output. With
the international release of 2000s critically acclaimed Audition, Miikes burgeoning cult status
in the west exploded. Thanks to the success
of that film, which hinged on a meticulously calibrated tonal shift from a Vertigo-esque study of male voyeurism to one of
sadistic female empowerment, Miikes work has become more palatable for distributors. Of course, that might not mean much for a director who
makes seven films in one year, but it at least ensures a few of them a proper stateside
theatrical release. The last two years have seen
several of Miikes recent films, such as The Happiness of the Katakuris, Dead or Alive, and Ichi the Killer, meet their demand in the
Working in a straight-to-video industry that caters to the perversely violent instincts of its hungry fanbase, Miike has become notorious for conjuring up schlock imagery to blanch even the most prurient audience-member. Not for the faint of stomach, his films are easily recognizable for their kinetic brio, arterial spree and otherwise inventive uses of human bodily functions. Die-hard Miike fans argue over which scene the hooker drowning in a kiddie-pool of her own excrement, say, or the gangster strung up on meat hooks remains the most outrageous. Gozu, fans will happily note, checks off a number of the directors signature tropes, from lactating women to undead yakuza.
A gangster film crossed with a ghost story or perhaps a yakuza acid-trip flick Gozu follows two mid-level crewmembers, Minami (Hideki Sone) and his older, world-weary associate Ozaki (Miike-regular Sho Aikawa). Ozaki has been suffering hallucinatory outbursts of late, much to the consternation of their boss (Renji Ishibashi). In short order Minami is dispatched to take Ozaki out to a remote gangland garbage dump in Nagoya and leave him to sleep with the rusted-out Datsuns. But before he is able to finish the job, Ozakis body disappears, leading Minami on a surreal journey to recover it and placate his irate boss back in Tokyo.
Gozu is pretty tame, violence-wise, in comparison to most of Miikes output. In place of the normal bloodletting, he opts for a wild surrealism that brings to mind both the rigorous weirdness of David Lynch and the twisted dark comedy of Luis Bunuel. Minamis attempts to find Ozakis body are repeatedly thwarted by the discourteous locals he encounters. One hilarious subplot finds him dodging the advances of the innkeeper he lodges with, whose house is nearly flooded by her relentlessly lactating breasts. To make matters worse, Minami begins suffering from his own brand of phantasmagoric delusions. He is visited by the half-cow, half-man a figure from Buddhist mythology that gives the film its title. And when it seems that Ozaki has returned to the land of the living in the form of a beautiful young woman, Minami must decide between loyalty to his boss and affection for his partner.
In addition to being one of Miikes funnier films, Gozu is frequently one of his most beautiful. Digital video has enabled the director to work constantly on the cheap, but he makes the most of shooting on film here, emphasizing his heros fish-out-of-water plight in a number of gorgeous establishing shots of Nagoyas low-slung factory skyline. The directors trademark low-angle shots in cramped spaces make the films climactic scene, shot in a spare, claustrophobic white room with a single amber floor lamp, an unforgettable comic-horror set-piece. As far as gonzo head-trips go, this ones certainly worth the ride.
- Jesse Paddock