Starring: Yuta Sone, Sho Aikawa, Kimika Yoshinob
Reviewed by Jeremy Silman
Rating (a 1 – 6 scale): 6
Allow me to start by quoting a film reviewer named Stephen Hunter: "Takashi Miike is Japan’s answer to both David Lynch and John Waters. And he’s better than both of them, and more prolific with more than 60 films to his credit by the age of 44. He’s also stranger than both, sicker than both, crazier than both...”
Well said, Mr. Hunter! He goes on to write, "I don’t think this [Gozu
] is quite the film with which to begin a Miike investigation.” But here we have to part ways, since Gozu
is EXACTLY the way to begin a Miike investigation!
To be clear, Miike made his name doing full-bore hyper-intense Yakuza films that, once you look under the covers, always is cracked in some manner (check out the Dead or Alive
series and you’ll quickly realize that the ‘crack’ is actually a chasm). Odd things can suddenly occur, or he delves so deeply into the Yakuza psyche, always mixing in copious quantities of raging violence (Ley Lines
, Rainy Dog
, Osaka Tough Guys
, Shinjuku Triad Society
… the list goes on and on), that Miike’s Yakuza films begin to eat the viewer’s brain.
Though Miike is a raging master of Yakuza flicks, he did a successful transition to horror with Imprint
(the end was so horrific that half the audience would walk/run out before it finished) and One Missed Call
, tossed in a bit of claymation with his horror (The Happiness of the Katakuris
, which is simply brilliant), then veered off into another direction by taking on Japanese nature spirits (The Great Yokai War
), gave a shot at a reality show parody (Visitor Q
– a mind-blowing piece of work), and finally took on the super hero (Zebraman
and Zebraman 2
) and super villain (Yatterman) genre.
But Yakuza themes are still his forte – he’s able to add so many amazing things to that basic template that you never really know what’s going to happen. And this brings us back to Gozu
, which creates a seamless blend of Yakuza and horror sensibilities. Thus, it’s the PERFECT film to show a Miike newbie. If you find it too bizarre, too much for your gentle mind to accept, then Miike is not for you and you can move on to Disney, any number of "triumph of the human spirit” flicks, solid action films, or a wide range of thoughtful dramas. Nothing wrong with any of that. But let’s be honest: true Miike is best watched with a cracked mind. "Healthy” individuals need not apply.
Gozu starts out with a typical Yakuza gathering at a restaurant. When one of the men (Ozaki, played by the great Shô Aikawa, who Miike uses in many of his films) jokes that a small dog that’s seen through the window is a "yakuza attack dog,” we witness a brutal dog murder, which leads to a Yakuza subordinate being ordered to drive Ozaki to some remote location and kill him.
So far, so Yakuza. But once the drive begins, Ozaki vanishes and we quickly realize that reality is starting to morph into something strange and unknowable. From that point on, we’re treated to a psychosexual tale from beyond the rainbow that will keep you riveted to your seat. A man in his underwear with a cow head that tongues people as they walk through the corridor of an Inn, a huge breasted lactating woman that is able to produce a seemingly endless supply of milk, which they bottle and sell… the fascinating madness goes on and on, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, we get the film’s end, which trumps everything before it. Gozu
is a masterpiece, a perfectly executed mesh of Yakuza mores and surrealism gone mad. Watch it, and after letting it wash through your mind for a few days, watch it again.