This is easily one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. I’ve only ever seen one other Japanese horror, and that’s Battle Royale, so I don’t think there’s much room for comparison. The Happiness of the Katakuris is a surreal horror-comedy directed by Takashi Miike, and includes a variety of mediums such as Claymation, musical numbers, and a karaoke duet. If anything, this film will thoroughly entertain you through its bizarre direction and farce acting.
The story focuses on a four-generation Japanese family, who open a Bed and Breakfast at the foothills of Mt Fuji beside an old dump after the head of the family, Masao Katakuri (Kenji Sawada) is made redundant from his job as a shoe maker. A family of failures, they need the Bed and Breakfast to work to make money. The only things is, their first guest committed suicide and the next two died in bed. As bodies begin to build up, the family must bury them to avoid bad press. Whilst all this is happening, there are some other storylines which become quite hard to follow, but entertaining nonetheless.
The Katakuris family have some von Trapp vibes going on, mixed with a lot of ‘oops’ moments and accidental deaths. More a comedy than a horror, I found myself laughing at the wacky editing and the amazing Claymation scenes, which were used in place of expensive CGI. If Aardman Animations got high, this would definitely be the result.
This film is actually a spoof of the dark South Korean drama ‘The Quiet Family’, which may be why it didn’t follow suit to Miike’s other horror film, ‘Ichi the Killer’ which came out the same year as The Happiness of the Katakuris in 2001. This would also explain the farce acting. Its musical numbers are nothing inspiring, and are hideously funny to watch. Despite my lack of knowledge on Japanese film or on musicals, I know the numbers weren’t great, and it almost felt like a stage production at times. But this is where this film exceeds, by offering a wide variety of platforms to entertain with, if you don’t like one part, you may like the next.
The film ends with Mt Fuji erupting and a long Claymation scene of the Katakuris house being swept away with its family, only to land in a new area further away from Mt Fuji, where there is apparently a secret field in Japan where Elephants and Giraffes roam free.
Whilst this film does not offer the conventions of horror or even any scares, its ability to generate a good amount of dark comedy is impressive. With its manic and delirious style, this film will leave you laughing and in a good mood. At the end of the day, it’s just a film about family sacrifice, with some strong overtones of lunacy.
If you’ve seen this film, I’d love to know your thoughts!