Opens Sat March 27
Clinton Street Theater
Of the approximately 50 billion films that Asian cult cinema icon Takashi Miike has directed, Happiness of the Katakuris is the only one I've seen--but it won't be the last. Simultaneously refreshing and jarring, Happiness takes Asian cinema--a schizophrenic genre to begin with--and contorts it into some of the most bizarrely entertaining directions imaginable.
Beginning with a brilliant live action/ claymation sequence, Happiness shifts gears through a myriad of genres--horror, comedy, animation, drama--to tell the story of the well-meaning Katakuri family, owners of the White Lover Inn. The inn hardly has any customers, but that's kind of a good thing--turns out that anyone spending the night there somehow ends up dead by the following morning. Fearing damage to their (non-existent) reputation, the Katakuris quietly start disposing the bodies in their backyard, and only then does the shit start hitting the fan. Working from Kikumi Yamagishi's script, Miike takes that fairly simple concept and spins it off into violently creative narrative and stylistic tangents (e.g., it's also a musical).
Happiness is hilarious throughout, largely because Miike always returns to the prosaic routine of family life unexpectedly punctuated by surreal events. The incidents are strange enough to be disconcerting, but he stops just short of making them genuinely disturbing; every gruesome corpse is counterbalanced with a dose of dark slapstick. (Plus, there's a musical number for nearly every plot point--all of them inexplicably set to music apparently lifted from Miami Vice--and one song is even a karaoke-style sing-along.)
With all of its elements, it's surprising that the only technical problem Happiness has is its uneven pacing during transitions between genres. While noticeable throughout, this only becomes an issue in the lagging final reel; thankfully, the completely unpredictable convergence of plotlines (not to mention the greatest death scene of all time) makes up for it. It's a small price to pay. Happiness of the Katakuris is a film that's not only enjoyable and inventive, it's also one that's greater than the sum of its parts--and considering how many parts it has, that's saying quite a bit.