I can sum this film up in two words: Fucked Up. It’s a gangster themed horror/comedy (subtitled “Yakuza Horror Theater”) with a genuinely psychotic arc. In other words, it’s a film by Takashi Miike, Japan ’s most outrageous filmmaker.
Quite simply, there’s no other filmmaker quite like Takashi Miike, the cinema’s current maestro of mayhem. It’s tempting to describe his films as excessive, but the fact is that Miike’s work starts at that point and only gets crazier from there. He’s certainly capable of creating slick and polished films (see AUDITION), but Miike seems most comfortable with crazed and undisciplined fare like FUDOH: THE NEXT GENERATION, ICHI THE KILLER and the film under discussion here. Recall the girl who shoots darts from her vagina in FUDOH or the astounding sight of a diminutive man removing his clothes to reveal an incredibly muscle-bound (and incredibly fake) CGI body in ICHI.
Takashi Miike is also probably the most prolific moviemaker on the scene right now, cranking out an average of three to six films a year, the majority of which fall into the horror (AUDITION, THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS) or Yakuza thriller (DEAD OR ALIVE, GRAVEYARD OF HONOR) categories. GOZU combines the two, so it should come as no surprise that it’s one of Miike’s most memorable films. The screenplay may be credited to someone else—Sakichi Sato, who apparently “always wanted to use” the title character (see below) in a script—but make no mistake: this is pure Takashi Miike through and through.
I imagine it’ll be difficult summarizing GOZU’S narrative without sounding like a mental patient. Here goes: Minami, a naïve Yakuza thug, is ordered to kill his mentor Ozaki, who has gone insane. Minami follows through, finding himself stuck in the rural town of Nagoya with Ozaki’s body in the back seat of his car. Yet during a sojourn in a diner manned by a cross dressing freak who likes to masturbate behind the counter, the corpse inexplicably disappears.
Minami takes off in search of his “brother’s” cadaver. Along the way he meets a man with a large white patch on his face (because there’s “not enough pigment” in his skin) who lives in fear of childhood bullies reentering his life. The two stay overnight in a weird hotel whose manager likes to squirt milk from her breasts; even stranger, she claims a man in her employ can get in touch with Ozaki’s spirit, but only if she canes the guy violently. And then there’s the creepy waiter in the adjoining diner, up and about despite the fact that he was killed a year earlier.
And that, believe it or not, is only a small taste of the insanity awaiting Minami (and the viewer!). He encounters a man with a cow’s head (apparently the title’s literal meaning) and the demented proprietors of an auto body shop who claim to have crushed Ozaki in their car pressing machine. Yet not long after this a sexy young woman shows up claiming to be Ozaki…and she/he wants desperately to have sex with Minami!
Has Ozaki truly been reincarnated into a female body or is Minami simply losing his mind? Is anything around him real? Does it even matter? Suffice it to say that, this being one of the strangest movies of all time, you won’t find too many concrete answers here…and no, I haven’t been making any of this stuff up!
Miike definitely has an unparalleled flair for the outrageous, but it’s his confident and stylish visuals that really set him apart. There’s sex and violence aplenty herein, but what really seems to irk audiences (Western audiences, at least) is Miike’s penchant for languid, contemplative pacing and whiplash changes in tone. It is literally impossible to ever predict where the story is going, packed as it is with unexplained supernatural occurrences, gangster movie violence, perverted sex and at least one flashback sequence that’s so unexpected—and seemingly inappropriate—as to completely obliterate, if only for a few seconds, one’s sense of the “reality” of what he/she is viewing. Add to that a soundtrack filled with ominous, anxiety inducing music cues and visuals that expertly transform seemingly mundane scenery into ominous psychoscapes, and you’ve got a world class freak-out certain to unnerve the hardiest of viewers.
Director: Takashi Miike
Producer: Kana Koido, Harumi Sone
Screenplay: Sakichi Sato
Cinematography: Kazunari Tanaka
Editor: Yasushi Shimamura
Cast: Hideki Sone, Sho Aikawa, Kimiya Yoshino, Shoei Hino, Keiko Tomita, Harumi Sone, Renji Ishibashi, Kenichi Endo, Kanpei Hazama, Masaya Kato, Tamio Kawaji, Susumu Kimura