The Film Connoisseur’s #2 Bizarro Film: GOZU (Takashi Miike, Japan, 2003)
This is a very challenging film both formally and at the level of narrative content from writer/director Toshio Matsumoto. It charts in a unique fashion the difficulties, prejudices, and challenges faced by a sub-cultural community of transvestites in Japan. The structure is episodic, and the editing strategy owes more to the montage approach than to the linearity of cause and effect - the result, as is the norm for many cult films, is that the challenge to the viewer is trying to make sense of the story amid a whirlwind of formal experimentation. Of course this isn’t helped one jot by the fact that this is a product of Japan which always provides just the right amount of cultural distinction to give films of this type an unknowable and alien quality. The major influence within Matsumoto’s splintered vision is the unregimented approach of European art cinema, and the variety of new wave movements within that. As a result the film has a formal sensibility that allies it with western avant-garde experimentation. That’s fine for those well versed in the conventions of those forms, but to anyone else this will provide a very difficult challenge. An oedipal element at least gives the fragmented narrative something recognisable to clutch onto - but the mixing of narrative and documentary style techniques only adds to the unreliability of the world we see. This is a very uncertain vision of Tokyo in flux, and the order of the day is chaos amid a desperate attempt for acceptance and understanding. Within this sub-culture we also get to explore the drugs scene and to his credit Matsumoto avoids sermonising. Instead he prefers to allow the characters and the situations to speak for themselves. The profusion of flashbacks, flash forward, repetition of images, and speeded up footage gives the whole thing a spaced out, drug induced, and elliptical hallucinatory quality that is not alleviated by an unforgettably violent finale. The visual experimentation certainly dates it, but the beautiful black and white cinematography gives grandeur to the subtle and brilliant performances within. A definite obscurity, but one worth seeking out for those who enjoy a less passive viewing experience.
Takashi Miike is the kind of director that has tackled all kinds of films in his career. In a way, he is like Ridley Scott who has made all kinds of different films from all kinds of different genres. Miike has done ultra violent gangster films like Ichi The Killer (2001), he has done science fiction/action films like Full Metal Yakuza (1997). Miike has even done a fantasy western film called Sukiyaki Wester Django. Hell, there’s even a children’s film in his repertoire, if you don’t believe me check out The Great Yokai War (2005), one of the most bizarre children’s film you will ever see. I think its interesting how a lot of the directors we have mentioned on this count down have been influenced in one way or another by David Lynch. In my opinion Takashi Miike can be included in this list of directors who’ve obviously seen a David Lynch film or two. Gozu is a film that exists in a universe similar to a Lynch film. It’s about this gangster whose days are numbered. His boss has decided he knows too much, and has to be eliminated. So, they send him out on a false mission in a far away town. In reality, they just want to send him to a lonely spot to kill him. He manages to elude his assassin, and ends up in a strange town where everything is just a little off. The thing you need to remember about this film is that it’s that kind of film where the characters suddenly find themselves in this alternate dimension where everything is strange, everything is weird. Kind of like stepping into the Twilight Zone. In this way, Gozu reminded me of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994), where suddenly the characters find themselves in this alternate dimension in which everyone seems to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. This film is similar to David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997). A weird town, stranger inhabitants, surreal imagery, characters that seem to morph into other people. Body switching and the such. There’s all sorts of strange people here, including a guy who can only get sexual satisfaction by shoving spoons up his ass! Like I said, bizarre. Don’t think that’s bizarre enough? How about a guy who has a human body and a cows head? Will our main guy ever escape this strange town? For this post I was divided between choosing this film or The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), another incredibly bizarre Miike film. In the end, Gozu won the battle because it is that much crazier. Stay tuned till the shocking finale which offers up one of the most bizarre situations/images I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Just when you think you seen it all, Miike proves you that you aint seen a thing.
This Top Five Bizarro Films Countdown is being done in collaboration with Shaun Anderson from the excellent movie review blog The Celluloid Highway, check it out if you haven't done so already, its a very well written and informative blog I know many of you will enjoy! Don't forget to come back tomorrow for the #1 choices for most bizarre films, where we will reveal the two weirdest movies you will have ever heard of. The countdown will only get weirder and weirder! See you tomorrow!
For part 3 of the Top Five Bizarro Films Countdown CLICK HERE!