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volume 3 issue 7

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INFO FILE
Title:
The Happiness of the Katakuris
Format:
Limited Theatrical Release
Cast:
Takeshi Miike
Kenji Sawada
Keiko Matsuzaka
Tetsura Tanba
Comments:
Little mountain inn, little mountain inn of horrors...!
Overall Rating:
85%

Animefringe Reviews:
The Happiness of the Katakuris
By Jake Forbes

You know how there's always that good natured American family in the old west who moves to the middle of nowhere because they have it on good authority that the railroad's gonna be coming through there? Well, apparently the same kinda thing is still going on in Japan, as that's basically the setup of prolific filmmaker Takeshi Miike's new film The Happiness of the Katakuris. This classic, cliché formula is the perfect setup for a cliché-filled film that's anything but.

When a shoe salesman loses his job, he buys a large house in the mountains and drags his family along to open a bed and breakfast. When someone finally does arrive at the inn, the guest mysteriously kills himself during the night. Dad, not wanting his new inn to get a bad reputation before it gets off the ground, decides it would be better to bury the guy's corpse in the woods and hide the evidence of his stay, rather than just tell the police. But bad things happen in pairs, as his next guests also meet their end during their stay. Before long, Dad's got a Styrofoam model of the house and surrounding areas to mark gravesites.

Dad's got his new job to worry about, but his kids aren't nearly as enthusiastic about the new hotel/mortuary business. The daughter, a pretty but insecure single-mom, is desperately looking for Mr. Right. She finally finds him in the form of Richard Sagawa, a pilot in the US armed forces (more specifically, in the British Navy), who is also the half-nephew to Queen Elizabeth and a secret agent (shhh! Don't tell!). Well, at least that's his story, and the daughter is buying. The son, a former petty thief, has given up his delinquent ways, but is dealing with approval issues with Dad. Of course, nothing brings a family together like burying corpses.

Oh, did I mention it's a musical?! The musical numbers, which parody both American and Japanese musical traditions, are frequent and funny. At various times you'll be treated with synchronized shoveling, dancing zombies, karaoke-style sing-along, and wire-flying lovers. For songs that are often made up of forced dialogue, the music is really quite good on its own right, but matched with the tongue-in-cheek visuals, it's even more charming.

Strangely enough, the film also features some wonderful claymation sequences, including a bizarre opening that is a mini-film unto itself. Happiness is a fairly low budget film, so the claymation bits are used primarily at times of big-budget action, such as when Dad saves the dog, Pochie, from a lava flow, or when Grandpa and Richard battle on a cliff face while dangling from vines.

For all its ingenuity and charm, the film gets a bit dull in the second hour. The musical numbers become more functional than fanciful, and a few unnecessary plot twists slow things down. Fortunately the finale, featuring escaped killer, volcanic eruption, and transmigration, is great fun, and ties up the family value theme better than expected. I don't think The Happiness of the Katakuris has a US distributor yet, so actually seeing the film may prove difficult in the short run, but for fans of bizarre cult filmmaking at its best, it's definitely a film worth tracking down.

For more information on the film, please visit: www.katakurike.com

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