Saturday, February 20, 2016

Gozu


   I wouldn't say I'm a fan... per se, of Takashi Miike, but I've always found his movies interesting.  Of course, I know him best from his surreal horror-ish movies- I'll certainly never forget Ichi: The Killer, or Visitor Q, but I don't know if I'd ever rewatch those movies. At least not until my memory of them is diluted enough to warrant a second viewing. Thematically, Gozu fits right in with them. It's basically about a Yakuza foot soldier, Minami, who's tasked with 'disposing' of his crazy brother-in-arms, when the guy mysteriously goes missing. What follows is a crazy and somber road trip into madness with outrageously weird and lurid nonsense along the way. If you want to try and search for meaning in the visuals and themes of Gozu, you go right ahead. The face value weirdness is more than enough for me.

   Right now I feel like there's not much more to say, or that I can say without spoiling the movie. I will say this though, if you're a fan of surreal cinema- dig in. But, be familiar with Miike's other work first. The tone and pacing of Gozu can be incredibly off-putting. It's slow, but not in the sense that nothing happens, it just takes it's time exposing you to it's oddities. I think everyone's experience with movies like this is wholly unique. I liked Gozu, I appreciated Gozu, but I didn't find it consistently engaging. It felt nightmarish, but not in the way you might expect. Not like a typical horror movie. It was nightmarish in the sense that it was uncomfortable, uncertain, surreal, and often quite random.

   Minami is the only anchor the viewer has to normalcy, and he reacts to the odd characters, places, and behaviors as any normal person would. So, most of the movie he's in a constant state of frustration, shock, disgust, uncertainty and fear.  Consider a scene where Minami goes to ask a shopkeeper and his wife if they've seen his 'Brother'. The shopkeeper's wife, an American woman, says she has- but after listening to her talk in the most stilted Japanese for a minute or two, he notices she's reading everything she's saying to him. He quickly steps inside, to see what she's reading- and an entire speech has been written out for her, taped to a beam on the ceiling. Shocked, confused, and angry, Minami storms out. The viewer gets no explanation for this scene, nor should he/she expect one.

   The movie is full of really odd moments like that, keeping both the viewer and Minami utterly confused and on edge. As the movie progresses, it gets weirder, trading subtle creepiness for full blown lurid shock and oddness. Strange cow-headed entities, breast milk, a seance, whipping, transformations, and an ending that's just... something to behold. Gozu feels less like a horror movie and more like it belongs to a genre that can't really be named. It's not scary, nor does it aim to scare- but it seeks to unsettle the viewer and evoke strong reactions. Thus, it's full of uncomfortable imagery that's occasionally punctuated by violent and shocking moments. The movie is rather disjointed and uneven, but that's by design and is most certainly not a fault of the movie.

   I do love how you could take this movie and look at it symbolically and divine a hundred different themes, concepts, and/or meanings from it. It's been likened to a fable-esque 'quest' or 'odyssey' type story, from Greek myth. Our hero goes looking for his lost brother, and ends up encountering horrific things along the way. Of course, not everyone sees it like that- some have entirely different ideas about the movie. I'd much rather read someone's essay-length dissection of the movie instead of writing my own. I'm far too busy for that, and there's so many more movies to watch. If the true enjoyment of Gozu, and others like it, lies in trying to apply meaning to their visuals and decipher what it all 'means', then I'm never going to enjoy them as much as some do.

   I simply have no desire to get that 'into' these movies. I like them enough for what I see. I enjoy being shocked and disgusted, and I enjoy the different flavor of Gozu against the mainstream. But, then again, compared to Gozu... everything is mainstream.

 

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