A couple of days ago, I watched two extremely weird Japanese movies back to back. The two respective movies are Beat Takeshi’s Glory to the Filmmaker(Kantoku, banzai !) and Takeshi Miike’s Happiness of the Katakuris.
The former is about Takeshi Kitano, having gone bored of making gangster movies, embarking on various attempts to make movies of various genres. And failing at every juncture. Theoretically, that is what it was supposed to be until it became episodes of surreal and bizarre comedy skits.
The latter is a black comedy about a family opening a guest house in a former garbage dump. Until when guests started arriving and started dropping like flies, leading to more bizarre events happening in the movie. It is somehow also a musical and feel good family movie.
Both share a common thing in that both directors are considered A list directors in Japan and are also darlings of the arthouse circuit. Beat Takeshi is at least more popular for his brutal gangster movies rather than his comedies. Takeshi Miike on the other hand, comes with a notorious reputation for making weird, sexual and extremely gory movies that pushes the envelope of good tastes.
Yet, both Glory and Katakuris have very little violence and goriness in it. There is virtually no sexual scenes except for some comedy routines.
I find that Katakuris to be the superior of the two movie that I watched. If only for the fact that the story is intriguing and the characters are compelling. Glory virtually has no story to speak of, only a plot and premise. And both are paper thin.
However, in terms of weirdness, both of them ranks as the weirdest movies I have ever watched.
I won’t even hazard a guess at what Glory is really about. But it does provides an interesting insight on how movies are made and the decisions that filmmakers make during the creative process. The strength of Glory lies in the fact that it is not trying to be anything and it is definitely not trying to break new grounds. Admittedly, some of the gags fall flat and some scenes just scream of slapstick. However, what makes it intriguing to watch is the sort of over the top elements that Takeshi can present in it without the movie falling apart in a incoherent mess. The resulting feeling is much like watching someone making a cake and adding ingredients like bat guano, spinach, turtle eggs and more bizzare stuffs and see how it all blends together. And to Kitano’s credit as a veteran director, he manage to pull it off before everything collapses in its melange of oddity. This scene alone is worth watching the movie:
As for Katakuris, for a movie about bodies piling up, zombies (well for a short bit) and Japanese conman pretending to a spy and related to the British royal family, its surprisingly heart warming and entertaining. Cheesy late 80s and mid-90s style musical scenes, the movie works exceedingly well as good cinema and even more so as great entertainment. One thing that one must say about Takeshi Miike is he is a director who really knows his craft. Making 70+ movies since the the early 90s must have taught him a few things.
When compared to Glory which has a haphazard and choppy feel to it, Katakuris is nearly flawless in execution. But of course, Katakuris has a very clear premise which was helped by good acting ensemble, a surprisingly strong script and musical numbers. There isn’t as much WTF moments as in in Glory with the bizarreness having a gentle *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* feel to it. Case in point is the scene with conman, Richard Sagawa, and his musical and dance number with one of the Katakuris, Suzue. It is just so splendidly corny and yet, it has a silliness that is not really self-concious. The musicals, the silly happenings and weirdness generally is all part and parcel of the universe that Katakuris inhabits.
There are certain things I didn’t quite like in it. Like the claymation animation that substitutes for when things got a bit too outlandish in the movie. Like when a volcano erupts. And I did think that the initial build-up was too slow. The movie generally had a very low budget feel about it and there is a lack of polish. However, these are minor quibbles which do not get in the way of a great movie experience.
Both movies are highly recommended if you are in the mood for something a bit different or just looking for weirdness. Watch it back to back and have a weird and wonderful time.