|The Happiness of the Katakuris © 2001 THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS PRODUCTION COMMITTEE.
Synopsis (courtesy Japan Society):
Based on a non-musical Korean film—The Quiet Family by another genre-mixing filmmaker, Jae Woon Kim—Takashi Miike uses the increasing absurdity of this comedy-horror-musical to explore the state of the Japanese family after the collapse of the economic boom that underpinned the popular song film. The film's claymation opening sequence and bleak narrative of a downsized salaryman opening a B&B in the country presents contemporary life as a hopeless cycle of exploitation, but the performance of the film's lo-fi musical numbers by a cast that includes Kenji Sawada, star of several "group sounds" musical films in the 1960s, highlights a nostalgia for intimacy and optimism. Rated R.
The incredibly prolific director Takashi Miike has been one of my favorite Japanese directors since I first saw Ichii the Killer (which came out in 2001, the same year as Happiness) years ago at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Since then I've seen Ichi several times on disc, and have watched numerous other Miike films (13 Assassins, Yatterman, Sukiyaki Western Django, Zebraman, Audition, etc.) either onscreen or on home video. All those that I've seen have been entertaining and worth watching, some exceedingly so. The Happiness of the Katakuris is one of the top Miike films I've watched.
It's the tale of of what the Katakuri family (I see no need for the "s" that makes the family name plural in the English title) experiences one summer. The story is narrated by Yurie, a young girl. She lives with her divorced mother Shizue, her uncle Masayuki, Grandpa Masao, Grandma Terue, and Great-Grandpa Jinpei at the White Lover's Guest House. After being laid off, Masao had bought the land and built the guest house because he had heard that a road would be built nearby and would bring many tourists.
Unfortunately, the guests are slow to materialize, and when they do, they have a habit of inconveniently dying on the premises. The family decides these deaths must be kept secret, lest they ruin any chance the guest house has of ever succeeding.
Hilarity ensues. And musical numbers, including one that brazenly recalls Julie Andres singing in a mountain meadow in The Sound of Music. (See the image at the top of this post.)
The Happiness of the Katakuris is further proof that Miike can probably make any kind of film and make it well.
3.5 out of 4 stars; this fun romp is highly recommended
This afternoon's screening of The Happiness of the Katakuris is part of the 2016 Globus Film Series Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Film.