Japanese director Takahi Miike is a brilliant filmmaker. The prolific director is best known for violent films like Audition and Ichi the Killer in America but he’s tackled a wide range of genres, including comedy. The Happiness of the Katakuris is a darkly comedic horror musical. It’s The Sound of Music meets The Evil Dead, done in a cheeky Japanese comedic tone. The wild, weird comedy includes both singing and dancing fueling a surreal experience that incorporates stop motion animation and freaky musical numbers as its calling card.
The Katakuri family run a peaceful country inn at the foot of Mount Fuji. Their business has been suffering from a curious lack of guests. They look forward to serving guests until each one keeps dying in a bizarre series of suicides, murders and other inexplicable deaths. It’s a wacky cast of characters that show up at their little inn, from a clueless police officer to a sumo wrestler. The Katakuris have pulled together as a family to support their beloved father Masao. Having lost his job, opening this inn was his idea. That is why it can’t fail and why the family thinks it’s necessary to cover up all these deaths.
The Katakuris are a bunch of wacky characters themselves as over-the-top sitcom caricatures. Several generations of the family are working at the inn, from their ornery great-grandfather to Shizue’s youngest daughter around pre-school age. Older son Masayuki is an ex-con. Shizue is the hopeless romantic, falling in love with the next man she meets. One of the funnier recurring story lines is how a criminal concocts some ridiculous story of being a member of the British royal family to seduce Shizue – all told in an elaborate musical number of course. It’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Japanese television.
It’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Japanese television.
It’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Japanese television.
Based on a Korean movie The Quiet Family, Miike takes this story in a completely zany direction. The goofy dancing in the musical numbers are intentional. It’s as much a spoof of music videos and musicals as anything else. The stop motion animation often works as a bridge between scenes, including a grotesque opener. The laughs are fairly big in The Happiness of the Katakuris. This is a pastiche of different genres with nothing being taken too seriously.
This is a wildly original, demented work of imagination. Takashi Miike has always been a daring auteur and the comedy in The Happiness of the Katakuris is wonderfully entertaining. The family that sings together and buries bodies together is obviously a recipe for household happiness. A musical horror comedy fusion from Japan with black humor that works far better than it should in theory.
The 2001 Japanese film looks very fine in this impressive Blu-ray debut from Arrow Video. Claimed to be sourced from a new high-definition digital film transfer struck by Shochiku Co., the 1080P presentation is framed at 1.78:1. Arrow provides a high-quality AVC video encode that averages 32 Mbps on a BD-50. The crisp video quality is overly bright with occasionally blooming white levels. A bright, perky aesthetic akin to news broadcast lighting suffuses its entire cinematography. That leads to vivid clarity in exteriors despite the slightly soft contrast.
The transfer doesn’t show signs of undue processing. Detail and micro structure remain fairly high in the razor-sharp picture. A wisp of digital noise is visible but confined to a couple of specific shots. This is clean digital video with largely flawless quality. Color saturation could be better. Primary colors lack vibrancy at times. The musical numbers have much different lighting, depending on the setting.
I doubt this film could look any better in 1080P resolution. Arrow’s BD provides a transparent representation of the digital master, warts and all. The slightly askew contrast is almost certainly intentional by Takashi Miike. Shot on early digital video for that technology, it’s a perfect transfer and true to the source.
The original Japanese audio is presented in a stellar 2.0 PCM soundtrack. The stereo mix bounces all over the place with dazzling singing and humorous musical cues. The stereo imaging is impressive with crystal-clear dialogue and perfect fidelity. The engaging mix works well for the low-budget comedy. The music does play off wider Japanese Pop trends, so Westerners may not get this music immediately.
Optional English subtitles play in a white font.
Arrow Video provides the most lavish version yet for Miike’s film, far surpassing prior DVD editions. The older featurettes are in standard definition and spoken in Japanese. English subtitles are provided for all special features. Most will be interested in the new audio commentary by Tom Mes and the new Miike visual essay made for this edition. A DVD of the film is also included. The Blu-ray is coded for both Regions A and B.
- Audio commentary by director Takashi Miike & actor/film critic Tokitoshi Shiota – An interesting discussion that has two different options. Miike speaks in Japanese and English subtitles are provided. Arrow has provided an English dub for Miike’s commentary if one can’t stand reading subs.
- Audio commentary by critic Tom Mes – Mes is very familiar with Miike’s work and covers the film in more depth than Miike’s own commentary.
- 2015 Interview with Takashi Miike (38:59 in HD) – A new interview with the director that goes over different areas than the commentary.
- Dogs, Pimps and Agitators (23:51 in HD) – A new visual essay by Tom Mes covering some of Miike’s long career. It’s a little too short for such a prolific filmmaker but provides a decent synopsis of the man’s history.
- The Making of the Katakuris (30:42 in SD) – An original documentary from the film’s production featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with the cast and crew.
- Interviews with the Katakuris cast members Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Tetsuro Tanba and Miike – These short featurettes are all in SD and run under five minutes.
- Animating the Katakuris (05:30 in SD) – A look at the creation of the film’s stop motion effects with animation director Hideki Kimura and Miike
- Trailer (01:44 in SD)
- TV Spot (00:20 in SD)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
- Booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Johnny Mains and a re-printed interview with Miike conducted by Sean Axmaker, illustrated with original stills
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.