Gozu (2003)

Gozu (2003)
Director: Miike Takashi - Writer: Sakichi Sato - Starring: Sho Aikawa, Hideki Sone, Kimika Yoshino, Harumi Sone, Shohei Hino, & Renji Ishibashi.
Updated: 02-26-2006

It's a Miike film - of course it's weird.

If the idea of a man smashing a Pomeranian to death against the sidewalk because it's a "Yakuza-trained assassin dog" sounds funny to you, then you'll probably get some kicks out of the random, morbid, and darkly humorous Gozu. (P.E.T.A. members, on the other hand, will have no love for this film). But the brutal (and brutally funny) murder of a Pomeranian is only the tip of the iceberg of weirdness that is your average Takashi Miike film.

Minami (Hideki Sone) is a Yakuza enforcer who is sent by his bosses on an errand to drive fellow mobster Ozaki (Sho Aikawa) to a junkyard. What Ozaki doesn't realize is that this is meant to be a one-way trip, since an assassin is waiting there for him. The increasingly paranoid Ozaki has become unstable, and when he smashes the aforementioned Pomeranian to death in front of a restaurant full of civilians, it becomes apparent to his bosses that Ozaki has completely lost it.

When Ozaki disappears during a pit stop at a restaurant, however, Minami must interact with a gaggle of freaks in order to track him down. These increasingly bizarre encounters include a middle-aged woman who lactates excessively and bottles her own brand of breast milk, a bald transvestite who runs the local café' and was supposedly killed in a car accident two years earlier, and a man with a cow's head (Gozu). Unfortunately, the film begins to plod in several places during the second act, but still manages to keep the viewer roped in with the occasionally hilarious or disturbing scene. While out looking for Ozaki, Minami eventually finds is a beautiful young woman (Kimika Yoshino) who claims to be a female reincarnation of Ozaki, and offers up intimate details about Minami that only Ozaki would know as proof of her identity. And that's when Gozu starts to get really bizarre.

Although Gozu has ample moments of dark and surreal humor, it's definitely not for the weak of stomach or those who prefer that their movies have a relatively linear and straightforward narration. While your attention may be grabbed by some of the sheer absurdity that Gozu offers, some of the more arid stretches may leave you scratching your head or shifting uncomfortably in your seat. My contention with Gozu, however, is the same with nearly every other Miike film I've seen -- While Miike uses violence and surrealism to create a unique and intriguing palette, it's usually a bunch of sound and fury without any readily apparent context. Characters are usually ciphers, seemingly placed into a situation to elicit a response, but never being developed enough for their actions to have any apparent meaning. They seem to be strange just for the sake of being strange, warranting little emotional investment in the outcome. And while there is plenty of twisted humor and a healthy amount of gore and gross-outs, there's nothing to give it a sense of direction.

Granted, my failure to fully grasp the thrust of Miike's films may be due to as much to cultural subtleties that westerners just don't get, as to Miike being willfully random and enigmatic. The bottom line is that Gozu is a typical example of Miike's films -- while it never fails to entertain with its violently absurd exuberance, it always leaves me feeling more than a little bemused. Which is probably exactly what Miike intended.

If you love watching a weird movie just to see how much weirder it can get, Gozu is an essential pick for your rental list. Gozu will most likely please hardcore Miike fans, or those looking for a gooey good time in the vein of Videodrome or Shivers. However, those not familiar with Miike's usual brand of madness may want to ease into his world with one of his slightly more mainstream-viewer friendly flicks like Audition.

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