Spotlight on Japan: The Happiness of the Katakuris

Only Takashi Miike would be crazy enough to make remake a grim Korean film as a satirical musical. That’s what he set out to do with The Happiness of the Katakuris and, believe it or not, succeeded incredibly well. With one of the most unforgettable opening sequences I’ve ever seen Miike leads the audience to a bizarre yet strangely moving story of a desperate family trying to make a living with a remote guest remote house. The father is obsessed with maintaining the business. The mother is a loving housewife who sacrifices herself for the family. Their daughter is a love-struck single parent and their son a rebellious ex-thief. The grandfather shows great dedication in protecting the family from all sorts of trouble while killing birds by throwing wood planks. Yes, wood planks

After the weird introduction the story unfolds like a really bad TV show – with gung-ho emotion and melodrama. Miike draws really good laughs this way and it seems like he is making fun of Japanese pop culture with overacting, bizarre TV footage and song sequences. Sooner or later any sort of thematic or tonal coherence is replaced with something completely different as the family members find themselves burying all their customers – while singing and dancing in really corny musical sequences which are funnier than one would believe. Add a fake foreigner who is after the family’s money and the result is quite insane. With all of this going on it is hard to believe that there is even a possibility for good character development or genuine emotion. Miike turns the tables with surprising – even if self-aware – sentimentality that managed to be both moving and hilarious.

Given the family’s dysfunctionality some sort of development is to be expected, but Miike allows every adult character a moment of reflection and redemption that goes beyond mere superficial change. However, he isn’t willing to give the film an easy ending. He brings everything together in an unpredictable climax that is bold, sad, hilarious and disturbing at the same time.

What makes the film even more baffling is that Miike has shot it in a very unlikely way. First of all, it was not shot on film and thus looks a bit like his V-Cinema output in the 90’s. That aesthetic is mixed with restrained and brave cinematography and conventional editing which give a very clear understanding of the bizarre events. Almost as if the film assumed there was nothing weird about the screenplay. Furthermore, Miike opts for stop motion animation and intentionally terrible CGI effects quite often, which paves way for really surrealistic imagery. Surrealism and low digital video quality don’t usually walk hand in hand, but Miike combines the two with great confidence. Due to the delightfully corny nature of the musical scenes The Happiness of the Katakuris comes off as a satire rather than a serious film – yet they are played so straightly it’s hard to figure out what Miike wanted to do with them. Maybe he just loves the emotional chaos that ensues from that.

The premise sounds like a complete joke, but Miike is the sort of director who has the balls to pull it off. In the end there is really nothing hard to understand, but the experience is certainly something that will not satisfy everyone. Miike continues his string of controversial and polarizing films and he certainly knows how to surprise even his biggest fans.

The family bursts into song and dance after discovering the first corpse.


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

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