Gozu (2003)

APRIL 27, 2009


Via Twitter, I have twice promised Gozu (Japan: Gokudô kyôfu dai-gekijô) as my daily entry, only to be thwarted by its runtime one time and my own impulsiveness the other (making today’s promise the charmed third attempt). Also, it was recommended by at least two readers (including sansanesthesia and Zach) in the recommendation thread, plus more than a couple “in person” recommendations from friends. And yet, not a single Twitter reader, or any of the recommend-ers ever pointed out that it’s not actually a horror movie.

Yes, there is a scene where a man with a giant cow head suddenly begins licking our protagonist. And yes, the film’s climax is loaded with bodily fluids as a grown man is birthed out of a vagina. Both are surreal images that wouldn’t be out of place in some really weird horror movie. But those are pretty much the ONLY images/scenes of the type in the 2+ hr film, which otherwise plays out like a gangster film as imagined by David Lynch. To me, it’s no more a horror movie than Cabin Boy, which also features some occasional surreal images in an otherwise unrelated film (in that case, a comedy).

Luckily it still qualifies as a horror movie per my criteria (IMDb lists it as horror, along with about five other genres), so my streak is alive. Also luckily, I was at least entertained by the damn thing, though not fully until the 2nd hour. Not only is that where the surreal stuff occurs, but it’s also much funnier. After a gonzo opening (with a “trained Yakuza dog”, followed by a “trained Yakuza car”), the plot gets in the way of the weirdness and laughs for a while. It’s still got some elements of those things, but it’s nothing compared to the 2nd half, which has some truly inspired bits.

I mentioned Lynch before. I am not a big fan of his (I like Elephant Man and Twin Peaks the TV show, but the TP movie, and also his film Inland Empire, made me physically angry), so I haven’t seen all of his work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the “American wife” scene in Gozu was an homage to something he had done. In the scene, our hero is listening to a girl who obviously doesn’t speak Japanese as her native language, and it’s all broken (words like “go-ed” pop up, instead of “went”). Then our hero (Hideki Sone) notices that she appears to be looking at the wall above his head. He follows her gaze and discovers that she is reading cue cards! Awesome! Then there is a terrific sight gag; a mob “laundry room” in which the skin of guys that have been whacked are hanging on a rack like newly pressed suits.

Also, like Lynch’s Lost Highway, we have a character who suddenly and inexplicably becomes a different person. But here, someone who was a man is suddenly a woman, yet retains all of the memories of the male incarnation. Takeshi Miike doesn’t bother to explain any of this, and that’s not too big of a problem - if he did, then the other unexplained things would require an explanation too, and the movie would lose most of its charm as it morphed into a flurry of exposition. The only problem is that it doesn’t feel organic at all. With Lost Highway, baffling as it may have been, you could at least see how it was part of the structure, but here it feels more like an impulsive decision Miike made in between setups. I didn’t care about the lack of explanation, but fully threading the body switch into the narrative would have been appreciated.

The DVD I requested is the unrated 129 minute version that was advertised, but the one I was sent is an R rated cut running 5 minutes shorter. I would like to blame Blockbuster for this, but the disc itself has the initials "J.P." written on it with Sharpie, so I am guessing some dickhead named John Palmer or James Peters accidentally bought the R rated one, so he then rented the unrated one and sent back his R rated disc (after initialing it like a total fucking idiot). Anyway, I wasn’t aware of the difference until after the movie was done (when it ended 5 minutes sooner than I expected), so afterward I spent a good hour looking around for any sort of information as to what the edits are, and turned up nothing. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know. For all I know, there was supposed to be 5 minutes’ worth of zombie slasher action sprinkled through the film to solidify it as a horror movie.

At any rate, this means I am also robbed of the audio commentary by Andy Klein and Wade Major (film critics, presumably speaking English), and other extra features that I understand are available on the unrated version. This one’s only extra of note is an essay about the film by Tom Mes, who literally wrote the book on Miike. In the essay, he confirms my Lynch suspicions and also helps fill in some background about the Japanese “Yakuza Film” that I have zero familiarity with, which resulted in less appreciation for Gozu’s attempts at deconstructing the subgenre (I guess it would be sort of like a Japanese guy seeing Scream as his first slasher). I reported the “wrong disc” to Blockbuster and they promise to be sending a replacement, so if it comes in due time I will watch the extras and update the review accordingly.

So while I didn’t dislike the film by any means (though it could easily be 10-15 minutes shorter), the fact that it barely even visits the horror neighborhood makes it a tough sell to recommend to readers of this site. In fact, had I seen it years ago, I probably would have used it for one of my October Extras #2 last year (the 31 non-horror but for the most part sort of horror related movies I watched/reviewed). And even once I figured out it wasn’t horror (about halfway through), I still don’t see why everyone shits themselves for Miike. So readers, in the future, when recommending a film of his, add a little note explaining why I should watch it. I’ve heard Ichi the Killer is “definitely” horror - assuming that’s true, will I be “blown away” by it as well? What is the ultimate Miike film? I keep feeling like I’m missing something here. Like if you told someone about how great Argento is and then they watched Phantom of the Opera and The Card Player and subsequently thought you were nuts.

What say you?

NOTE - The trailer has stuff that is not in the movie, unrated or not. It purposely makes the movie look more nutty than it is.


  1. I have yet to watch Gozu, but the ultimate Miike horror film is Audition. Not everyone's favorite, but it creeped the piss outta me. Other noteworthy films of his are Dead or Alive and Ichi the Killer. Visitor Q is supposed to be semi-horror too. I guess a good way to put it is that Miike films tend to be more horrific/disgusting/bizzare/cool than horror... or any other genre for that matter.

  2. my own impulsiveness

    "Homer, if you just weren't so impulsive..."
    "lets go skiing right now!"

    Incidentally, you know I love Twin Peaks (this must be where pie goes when it dies) and David Lynch, and I suggest you watch his other stuff, especially his short films which are so fucking off the wall that they scare the shit out of me... I have it so maybe I'll toss it your way and you can send it back along with that package you were supposed to send in January.

    Also, I like what I have seen from Miike EXCEPT for Audition which really bored me, but never saw Ichi the Killer, so I am curious to see it-- but I'll probably wait til you review it.

  3. "Ichi The Killer" is not a horror movie, it's just an ultraviolent comic book adaptation. Nothing else. I don't know why people are so fascinated with that movie.
    "Visitor Q" is awesome, you should definitely watch it - it's quite short (around 80 minutes without the end credits) and it's also quite funny, if you can get past necrophilia and other disgusting concepts.

  4. I totally felt ripped off and bored to death (was the whole point of the movie how the boss wanted to f..k his protege -and viceversa- and to do so he just turned into a women??? WTF??) by this movie, and I actually find Miike Overrated, Audition it's a good film, and creepy,(although kinda a slow burn) but Visitor Q it's the film that made me say "and I am still watching this crap because....????" Ichi the killer it's and over-the-top gore-action film, ok if you don't try to take it seriously, still the guy can make movies but by far, it's not the great filmaker a lot of people portrait him to be, not even by the shock value...

    I still don't know if you already checked out "Battle Royale" (and stick to the first only, trust me) it's way more close to Horror that Gozu, if not for something, for the possibility of the program to be forced on the people on real life... Considered it a good "extra" choice...

  5. I've never really thought of Miike as horror, with the exception of *Audition*, and even then it's more in the "extreme cinema" catagory. Then again, is later Croenberg horror? hmmmmmm

  6. I wouldn't classify Ichi the Killer as a horror film. It's another crime/Yakuza movie with a ton of gore, that's about 30 minutes too long, and pretty slowly paced. I don't think you'll be blown away by it.

  7. ichi the killer is awesome. audition is really cool. visitor q is one of the most disgusting movies i've ever seen.

  8. I thought Audition was better than Ichi. As mentioned before, it is not even really a horror movie. Besides the bat-shit craziness of it I thought it was sort of lame.

  9. Funny how we were supposed to comment about Gozu and fell on the other films instead,(me included), it's great to find so many conosours (wait it's that the way it's supposed to??.... ah hell with it!!), horror movie knowledge rules!!!!

    (ok that was waaaaaay geeky)

  10. I have no clue as to what the differences between both versions of Gozu are (I only saw the unrated version at a film fest here in Argentina), so I can't help with that. I think there are no straight-up horror films by Takashi Miike except for One Missed Call (which is crap). But there's The Happiness of the Katakuris, Miike's absolute masterpiece, which has some zombie action (and it's a family comedy, and a musical!). Highly recommended.

  11. Miike did a Masters of Horror called "Imprint" which is pretty disgusting (aborted fetuses ahoy!!) and had some definite creepy moments. I would check it because from what I heard it was so graphic that Showtime wouldn't air it.

  12. Oh,yeah!! I forgot about that episode, It´s actually very good (yep, disturbing too) and it was direct to dvd, hmmm, guess there was nothing wrong with showing zombies having a threesome with a hot chick (Hackel's tale) but fetuses??? Perish the thought!!!!

  13. It was probably more the incestuous child rape and brutal prostitute torture than the foetus stuff that got it banned from Showtime. They did show it on Bravo, however.

  14. Oh, and Ichi is definitely not horror. I don't know why anyone would tell you that.

  15. Ichi was disgusting from the first five minutes to the very disgusting end. A hero who has an orgasm when he kills?

    Audition wasn't bad really, slow, but not bad.

    I think Miike is just one weird fucker, it's that simple. I just finished Detective Story and that clinched it for me, he is weird.

  16. http://movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=5753189

  17. 13 Assassins is a very good movie though it moves very slowly.


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