Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Gozu

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 1, 2004

Directed by Takashi Miike/Screenplay by Sakichi Sato/starring a lot of Japanese actors you’ve never heard of/Pathfinder Pictures

A young Japanese mobster must track down his crazy boss in a completely bizarre small town.

OK, so if you’re actually reading movie reviews on the Internet, I assume you’re already familiar with the work of Takashi Miike. You know he’s considered the current madman of cinema (besides yours truly, of course), that his films are outrageously violent and sexual and just plain weird for the sake of being weird. You’ve already seen movies like Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q, and you know they’re completely fucked-up, even for Japanese cinema, which is already pretty out there.

None of this can possibly prepare you for the sheer onslaught of hysterical, cringe-inducing audacity that is Gozu. Gozu would be mind-blowing, except for the fact that you’ll be laughing so hard that your guts would probably explode before your head.

Of course that one-line plot summary above doesn’t do the film justice. Suffice it to say that Gozu is Japanese for “cow head” (yes, this will be important later) and that the film includes depictions of animal cruelty, breast-milk production, brother-sister S&M, gender switching, anal intrusions and death by spoon, among others. I don’t think even Joe Bob Briggs could keep up with all the crazy shit in this movie. It’s kinda nice to know that small towns in Japanese movies are just as fucked-up as small towns in American movies. (I grew up in a small town, and always found it really boring. I must have been hanging out in the wrong places.)

Some people are put off by the outrageousness of Miike’s films, and I can sort of understand that. Some of them go a little too far, even for my taste. But the great thing about Gozu is that it’s a surreal, absurdist shaggy-dog road comedy that plays with your expectations of a Miike movie. Anyone who knows his work is going to come into it expecting to be disgusted and freaked out. But Gozu is constantly surprising in the way it disturbs you, starting out slowly and gradually and finally building to a crescendo of pure insanity. Just when you think the guy can’t shock you any more, he sneaks up on you and pulls something completely out of left field.

Fans of his yakuza movies are probably going to expect some kind of ultraviolent crime thriller, and that’s not at all what you get here. Miike never seems to go for the obvious joke, and he builds up each gag to the point where it becomes almost deliriously excruciating. Where any other director would pull back or cut away at some point, Miike doesn’t. Just when you start to think, “OK, he’s not REALLY going to do it”, that’s when he goes for it. And he keeps going.

Needless to say, I think Gozu is the funniest movie I’ve seen this year, and one of the best. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. But if you’re interested in adventurous, subversive cinema, this is a must-see. Love it or hate it, you simply can’t say, “I’ve seen it all” until you’ve seen this. And I guarantee you’ll never look at milk the same way again.

**** 4 stars. 11/1/04

Gozu is currently scheduled to be released on DVD Nov. 23.

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