Feb 11, 2010

Posted in 2000s, Asian, Films Categories, George, Japan, Reviewers

Gozu (2003)

Gozu (2003)

By Matthew Dean Hill~

Ahhh…Takashi Miike brings us another compelling yakuza horror yarn! It’s about time! As anyone who has bothered to read Atrocities Cinema.com knows by now, I love Takashi Miike. Love him. Yep. You readers can pretty much bet on the fact that every time Miike comes out with a new horror flick, I’ll be there to review it and pick it apart. Why? Well, picking apart Miike’s films is not only fun and rewarding, it’s almost inevitable. I’m simply doing it for you, so you can take the ideas and do what you will with them. That brings us to “Gozu”. Now, it has been said before that “Gozu” is more a surreal character study in the tradition of David Lynch than a true “horror film”. I’ll agree with that, at least tentatively. “Gozu” isn’t a horror film in the same way “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is a horror film, but it’s horror nonetheless, if only because of the places it takes the viewer. That fact, as I have said before, not only makes “Gozu” fit into the horror category, but makes it more genuinely horrific than most films you’re likely to see any time soon. It’s a waking nightmare, and it’s a truly twisted love story, to boot!

The synopsis:
“Gozu” opens with a meeting between some Yakuza brothers to discuss their next steps. High-ranking dude Ozaki (Sho Aikawa) notices two women standing outside, chatting away and holding a poodle, and suddenly, he snaps. Ozaki tries to convince the Boss (Renji Ishibashi) that the tiny dog is really a Yakuza Attack Dog, at which the Boss balks (understandably). Ozaki summarily walks out of the place, grabs the dog, and much to the shock of the women (and his Yakuza brethren), proceeds to literally beat the dog to death. This apparently crazy act doesn’t sit too well with the Boss, and for that reason (and others, we assume) he orders a lower-ranking henchman named Minami (Hideki Sone) to “take care of” Ozaki…and I don’t mean “feed him grapes and fan him with giant palm leaves”, either! There is one problem…Minami and Ozaki are very, very close friends…so much so that they have a very brotherly relationship. Still, Minami agrees to take Ozaki out to a remote dumping ground to kill him and dispose of his corpse.

On the way there, Ozaki sees what he is convinced is a “Yakuza Attack Car” (!), and when he comes literally within a hair of killing the innocent passenger, Minami steps in and bashes Ozaki over the head. He then puts Ozaki back in their car, and tries to find the nearest payphone to call the Boss to tell him what has happened. He pulls into an odd little town, enters an odd little restaurant, and tries to use the phone. He finds the phone “in use” by an obnoxious guy who drones on and on about how the weather that day is cooler than the day before, so he sits down to collect his thoughts for a moment.

Upon leaving the restaurant, he goes back to the car, only to find Ozaki missing! And here he was thinking the dude was dead, only to have his body disappear! Justifiably confused and worried, he finally reaches the Boss on the phone, who tells him to visit another local Yakuza Boss who owes him a favor…that he will know what to do. He drives out to meet the dude, but first meets a strange white-faced man named Nose (Shohei Hino), who agrees to help Minami on his quest. It’s at this point where I feel I must stop trying to synopsize this film, because quite frankly, to do so would completely spoil the film for those who have yet to see it, and it would also diminish some of the shock and surprise value that the film has to offer. No, this is a film you have to see on your own, and about which you must come to your own conclusions. Honestly, the plot points that I told you up to the part where Minami meets Nose are all accurate, but after that, well…suffice it to say that things get really, really obtuse and weird.

Whew…well, I will tell you that “Gozu” is a film that has some basic requirements in order to fully understand. First and foremost is a basic working knowledge of Buddhist symbolism, legend, and beliefs. Every character, object, and odd little moment in “Gozu” is directly symbolic of some aspect of Buddhist belief. In fact, it could be said that even though this is a very abberant and perverse film, it’s nevertheless a very “moral” film as well, if only from a Buddhist perspective. Each and every character gets exactly what they deserve. The challenge is, of course, to decipher just what is real and what isn’t. There is a lot going on in “Gozu” that seems to take place in a sort of parallel universe…a Buddhist “purgatory” if you will. One of these days, I’m going to write a big, exhaustive article on the precise shades of meaning held by every aspect of “Gozu”, but this isn’t the time or place for that kind of detail. I will say that this film is absolutely essential viewing for fans of Miike’s work. While it’s nowhere near as shockingly gory as “Ichi the Killer”, “Gozu” still shares a lot of aspects with that film. Obviously, there’s the whole “Yakuza” thing…that’s pretty much a given. Miike seems to be fascinated with the inherently homosexual subtext behind much of the Yakuza organization, and that attitude is so in your face here that it makes “Gozu” even more of a homosexual love story than “Ichi”. Again, not to scold, but I would hope that my readers are mature enough to read something like that without getting all giggly and stupid about it. Besides, due to certain events in “Gozu”, one can never be 100% sure as to the gender or sexuality of any given character in the first place, so nyah!

None of this, of course, is to say that “Gozu” doesn’t satisfy on the signature Miike “grossness” level. Quite the contrary, in fact. Here’s just a sampling of the perversions you can expect by watching “Gozu”:
Freakish lactation
Adult breast feeding
The use of ladles as sex-toys
The birth of a fully-grown man by a rather petite lady (in fairly graphic detail)
Hideously long, gooey tongues
A guy with a cow’s head (in fact “Gozu” means “cow head”)
…and much more…
Basically, Miike uses a very Lynchian “kitchen sink” approach: if it’s disturbing to watch, he shows it to you. So, while being a fairly philosophical, surreal, and relatively “quiet” film, it certainly delivers on the “uncomfortably disturbing and weird” level. Gorehounds and perverts, rejoice! “Gozu” has got you covered!

All told, “Gozu” isn’t really one of Miike’s more accesible movies. If you’re a “Miike virgin”, I would recommend that you stay away from “Gozu” for the time being, and watch “Ichi” or “Audition” first. However, if you’re a seasoned Miike veteran, and you have come to know what to expect from his films, then “Gozu” is just the ticket for oddball, surrealist cinema at its best and most obtuse. It’s a gleefully gross romp through the subconcious mind, and it will leave you (assuming you “get” it) with a strangely uplifted eeling. I can’t really explain it any better than that. “Gozu” does have a happy ending, I suppose; though it’s an ending that will doubtless leave many viewers in the proverbial dust. They’ll feel good about it, though…even if they don’t know quite why. Ultimately, “Gozu” is one long, elaborate, dirty joke…but it’s a great joke. You’ll see what I mean if you take the time to read into the complexities of the subtext. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Pathfinder’s unrated director’s cut of “Gozu” is an absolute joy. The 16X9 anamorphic transfer is a bit muddy at times, but otherwise, it’s a beautiful print. The special features are plentiful enough for a release of this type, and include audio commentary with film critics Wade Major and Andy Klein, a still gallery, a making-of feature, trailers, cast/crew biographies, film notes by Japanese Film and Miike expert Tom Mes (author of “Agitator: The Films of Takashi Miike”), and the theme song. The crown jewel of supplements here, I think, are the detailed and entertaining “round table” style interviews between Klein, Major, Eli “Cabin Fever” Roth, Guillermo “Cronos” del Toro, and Miike himself. The three filmmakers have a bang-up time discussing the themes dealt with in “Gozu”, as well as genre filmmaking in general. It’s clear that, despite the language barriers, these three dudes enjoy each other’s company, and that they all speak the universal language of film well enough to hold a thoughtful, educated discussion on the subject. Great stuff all around!
“Gozu” is a truly odd, disturbing, funny film, and this edition is an absolutely essential part of your growing (hopefully) Takashi Miike DVD collection. Highest possible recommendation.

By  Matthew Dean Hill

GOZU 2003 (Japan)

Takashi Miike

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Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)
Gozu (2003), 4.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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