The wacky murder-musical The Happiness Of The Katakuris redefines Takashi Miike

The wacky murder-musical The Happiness Of The Katakuris redefines Takashi Miike

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Warm Bodies has us thinking about other horror-comedies.

The Happiness Of The Katakuris (2001)
Takashi Miike isn’t commonly known for his sense of humor. His best-known films, extreme-cinema outings like Audition, Ichi The Killer, and Dead Or Alive, sometimes wink at the audience, or grin hellishly at them with wild eyes and bloodstained teeth. Normally, though, Miike is more focused on grimly pushing his characters’ physical limits, and his audience’s tolerance for graphic violence and extreme sex. But with his 2001 musical The Happiness Of The Katakuris, he pushes the boundaries of logic and story instead. Like Audition, The Happiness Of The Katakuris straddles more than one genre. Unlike Audition, it never pretends to be a serious drama, and once it starts taking sharp turns, it doesn’t stop. It’s a manic, crazy, thoroughly enjoyable genre salad.

The Happiness Of The Katakuris announces its surreal intentions in the opening scene, as a Claymation cherub rips out a woman’s heart-shaped uvula, kicking off a sequence in which animals and objects devour or dissect one another. That briefly gives way to a more conventional story (inspired by the South Korean horror comedy The Quiet Family) about a family of defeated failures who try to change their fortunes by buying a remote country guest house, which is supposedly destined to become a tourist Mecca once a nearby road expands and traffic through the area increases. Instead, the Katakuri family only fields a few strange, stray guests, who keep meeting fatal misadventures. Terrified that their hotel will develop a bad-luck reputation, they cover up the incidents, but the corpses keep piling up.

So the Katakuris express their shock and despair with spontaneous song-and-dance numbers, ranging in style from a cheap, strobe-heavy new-wave video to a swooning love ballad to a family sing-along out of The Sound Of Music. The opening sequence’s oddball juxtaposition of cutesiness and grotesquerie carries through the whole film, and so does the shock factor. Miike is still doing what he does best—provoking audiences with extreme images and startling developments. But in this isolated case, the surprises are more whimsical than gory, even once the singing zombies get involved. It’s a terrific cult movie, particularly for jaded viewers who are used to seeing plot developments coming a mile away. No one will have that problem here. 

Availability: Available on DVD.