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.