In the first two minutes of Takashi Miike’s genre orgy The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), a woman stirs her soup only to find a claymation cherub lurking in the broth. The awful little freak plucks out her uvula as she screams—a heart-shaped treat for his troubles—and flies to the mountains where he chews the fleshy pendant until a crow bites off his head. A nearby plush bear then springs to life and murders the crow. Snakes and wet nestlings, too, take part in such violent consumption, until an egg hatches and a new cherub is born.
This opening may seem senselessly bizarre, disparate from the ensuing family fare and karaoke-inspired musical numbers of Katakuris, but it springboards the film’s cyclicity: death is inevitable, indefinite, and often hilarious. A panoply of corpses, charlatans, and stop-motion brutality, Katakuris is a hybrid musical-comedy-horror, following a Japanese family that comes into ownership of a cursed inn. (The film is a loose remake of the South Korean black comedy The Quiet Family , which featured a family-owned hunting lodge and a slew of dead guests.)
Masao (Kenji Sawada), the family patriarch, invests his redundancy pay in converting a former landfill into the White Lover’s Inn, a bed and breakfast near the base of Mount Fuji. Business is impossibly slow until a guest checks in and takes their own life in the night. Panicked and paranoid, the Katakuris break into song and bury the body in order to save face. When a second and third guest die in the saddle, they do the same, stockpiling the bodies in the forest until they’re resurrected for a big dance number. It’s an uncomplicated cycle: die, sing, zombify, repeat.
The film was partly obscured by the release of Miike’s contentious gorefest Ichi the Killer later that same year (one of seven features by the director in 2001, along with Visitor, Agitator, Family, Family 2, and Kumamoto Stories). A sunny, largely amoral precursor to Ichi—a crime film primed with promotional barf bags for festival-goers—Katakuris outdoes itself with each scene. Miike’s modes of experimentation here are gleefully deranged, jilting genre criteria in favor of a looser, hypnopompic style. The result: a defibrillator to the brain, with slutty sumo wrestlers and rolling hills to boot.
The Happiness of the Katakuris screens tonight, April 25, at Nitehawk Prospect Park.