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Thursday, September 9, 2004

GANG CRAZY

Movie: Gozu

Posted on Thu, Sep 9, 2004 at 4:00 AM

***
Gozu
Length: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Studio: Pathfinder Pictures
Website: http://www.pathfinderpictures.com/
Release Date: 2004-09-10
Cast: Hideki Sone, Harumi Sone, Kimika Yoshino, Sho Aikawa, Shohei Hino
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriter: Sakichi Sato
WorkNameSort: Gozu
Our Rating: 3.00

"All of the elements that people say are a little too much in my films, I never believe is too much." – Takashi Miike

Even after helming more than 50 films in the past decade, the one thing that Japanese director Takashi Miike could not be accused of is being "conventional." Movies like the super-creepy Audition or the coyly bizarre Happiness of the Katakuris are consistent only in their continued use of the unexpected. Gozu, a film Miike conceived as a straight-to-video confection, easily ups the ante of weirdness in an oeuvre that's practically built on weirdness. By merging his two beloved genres – yakuza and horror – Miike explodes the rules of both and emerges with a painfully psychedelic journey through hallucinatory insanity.

The story is but a thin device upon which Miike can hang his various twisted visions. Lots of bodily secretions, mutilated animals and unnecessary violence do little to advance a story about Ozaki (Sho Aikawa), a yakuza brother who's losing his mind so surely that his gang-induced paranoia is inseparable from his mental degradation. Ever heard of a "yakuza attack dog"? Me neither. But apparently – at least to Ozaki – they take the form of white teacup Yorkies. The appropriate response when you see one? Beat it against a sidewalk. Repeat. Repeat. Then swing it in wide arcs from its leash into a plate-glass window. Repeat sidewalk beating. That should take care of it. As an introduction to a film (which the scene essentially is), a sequence like that is a bit of a test. On one hand, it's unflinchingly horrible, but it's also incredibly funny, and Miike's continually deft blurring of the line between just plain weird and just plain stupid is a hallmark of Gozu.

Miike is a master of pacing and composition, and Gozu is filled with moments of near-overload, both visually and thematically. However, just when things are about to get too strange, he manages to pull back into the "story" with just enough languid (and virtually useless) scenes to make you think you're watching something resembling a normal movie. Scenes that would be a tiresome drag on most films are intervals of relief in the dreamiest moments of Gozu.

Some of the film is noticeably lazy, perhaps due to its conception as a straight-to-video work, but the visual and psychic impact of its successful moments makes up for such lapses. The movie is playful throughout, and Miike is careful to keep a thread of humor woven throughout most of the scenes. After all, when a building is leaking breast milk, what else can you do but laugh? As Ozaki spells it out at the beginning of the movie, "Everything I'm about to tell you is a joke; don't take it too seriously."

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