Spotlight on Japan: Visitor Q

At first I didn’t plan to continue the dysfunctional family theme from last week’s Funuke, but when I saw Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q again I felt obliged to write about it. There is a certain degree of eccentricity in both films, but whereas Funuke stayed on a fairly comfortable level, Visitor Q ticks off every possible taboo and disturbing subject. Brutal violence? Check. Rape? Yes. Incest? Yup. Necrophilia? Of course. The list goes on and on. That sounds like a formula for a sick and unwatchable film, doesn’t it? This is where Miike steps in and does his magic: Visitor Q is a truly hilarious and poignant film.

At its heart, Visitor Q is a clever and intentionally exaggerated portrayal of family dynamics. A father who cares only about his work. A sexually deprived mother who is beaten and ignored by her children. A bullied boy who in turn takes his frustration out on his family and home. A runaway daughter who relies on prostitution. But as the film’s official tagline says: “But the only thing stranger than the family is … Visitor Q.” Visitor “Q” is the mysterious man who enters their home and resolves the family’s conflicts in the most bizarre possible ways. He comes from nowhere, hits the father with a stone, interacts with all family members and then disappears as suddenly as he originally arrived. I wouldn’t say he is a metaphor, but rather his presence provides all the keys for healing – which eventually happens, but not before Miike lets his sick circus run wild for over 80 minutes.

As the story progresses, the characters are observed from many angles, intimately and obsessively. The father makes documentaries. He is obsessed with reality of the material. His attempts to find something devastating turns him into a lunatic – or makes it simply obvious for everyone. He has no moral concerns at all. He just wants to capture tough subjects with his video camera – whether it’s his son’s bullying, rapes or murders. It’s almost as if Miike questions his own passion through the father character. Just as the father carries his video camera faithfully, Miike used actual video cameras to give the film a really rough atmosphere and the sort of “reality” that the father tries to achieve. The only thing in his way are those responsible for airing his material and they are concerned enough about his work and do not accept his documentary ideas. But that doesn’t stop him from dedicating himself solely to his work. It might be a weird job, but this is essentially Miike’s twisted take on the Japanese salarymen.

Initially, the mother is a very submissive woman who tries to hide the injuries of domestic violence and does her best to not mind the adultery her husband commits. She sees herself as a bad mother and also yearns for sex – which she has replaced with drugs. What the visitor comes up as a solution for her conflict is something you will not see coming. It makes a lot of sense and satisfies both her motherly and perversely sexual instincts, but it’s not something I have ever seen seriously used in cinema. Miike’s visual take on her conflict is also quite outrageous, but also very complex when you get past the “shock” value.

The children are on their own level of bizarre. The boy is only angry on the outside. His room reveals his real inner self: tidy, organized and actually quite ordinary. He reads manga in his room where no one else is allowed. There is even a poster of Morning Musume, an idol group whose only talent is “cuteness”, in his room! He isn’t shown to have any friends and other students laugh at him or even bully him quite extensively. But on the inside he is just looking for proper attention from his parents – which he sort of gets in the end although it’s certainly not what he expected. The runaway daughter is a more simple case: like her father, she has no sense of what is right and wrong. As a rebellion against her parents, she sells her body to survive on her own, but that’s simply stubborn. She, too, has a lesson to learn from the mysterious visitor.

Even though Miike’s formal approach is quite humble it doesn’t mean it is not good. In fact, the low image quality and naturalistic sound design are completely fitting. They drive his point even further home. However, he does include a handful of offbeat sound effects to enhance his dark satire during the most important moments. The soundtrack is sparse and consists mostly of simple usage of the biwa. Miike lets the cast carry the film completely on their shoulders. Kenichi Endo’s performance as the father is one of the greatest tour de forces of comedy I have ever witnessed. He keeps the character grounded to reality while obviously exaggerating his traits for comic relief. Shungiku Uchida’s portrayal of the mother is a more restrained, but equally brilliant performance that is overshadowed by the other characters. Jun Muto is not given much to do as the son, but Fujiko’s brief performance as the daughter is a real gem as well.

Don’t let the outrageous surface fool you: Visitor Q is a really entertaining film – if you can accept its awfully touchy content. No matter how much I could praise this film I have to admit that I always do feel a bit sick after watching the film. Is it really a good thing to laugh at corpses and violent acts? Only Miike can pull it off and he does it for a good reason.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

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