Last Octoblur I watched Takashi Miike's infamously unsettling Audition for the first time, and I liked a lot of it. To start off my Asian Horror Movies Week this year, I went the opposite direction and picked Miike's weird 2001 musical comedy The Happiness of the Katakuris. Although it often gets tagged as at least part-horror, it's more a spoof than anything else — except that I'm not always sure what it's spoofing, and, aside from the wild opening sequence, it's not really very funny, either.
The Katakuris, a supposedly somewhat ordinary Japanese family, attempt to bounce back from a dark period — divorce, layoffs and jail time have blighted their recent past — by opening a cute bed & breakfast in an idyllic mountain setting. However, guests are scarce, and just when this enterprise appears to be yet another disaster in the darkening family legacy, they finally start to receive the influx of visitors they've been hoping for — only these clients bring unexpected challenges that force the family to bond together and make a collective effort to survive.
Dumbly billed as "The Sound of Music meets Dawn of the Dead," I can't say I saw much of either classic in The Happiness of the Katakuris. Although the family is prone to breakout into musical numbers with little provocation, the songs aren't particularly enjoyable, interesting or narratively valuable. They're the kind of songs that someone would write if they've never given any thought to how musicals work. Although death is a large factor in the Katakuris' new troubles, zombies make only a cameo appearance (during yet another musical number) with no impact on anything. The Happiness of the Katakuris tries to be a little bit of a lot of different things, but mostly only succeeds at being weird for weirdness' sake, and that only works about 25% of the time.
There is a kind of half-hearted theme at play in The Happiness of the Katakuris — how does one find happiness during times of stress, strife and trial? — but it's not a theme that is given any introspection, just an obvious pat answer that isn't earned dramatically. My biggest issue with Miike's film is that nothing really matters. There is a delightful, partially stop-motion animated, opening montage that is completely irrelevant to the remainder of the movie, and most events that occur during the film have little correlation to each other or effect on the characters. While some parts are amusing, the aimlessness of the humor is a quick dead-end, as if Miike is spoofing something of which only he is aware.
I have to admit I was half-hoping that The Happiness of the Katakuris would give me the same weird thrill I got from the amazing Hausu last Octoblur, but it's not even close to that fantastic mind-bender that maintains a strong current of emotional logic. I liked individual bits and pieces of Katakuris, but even those were marred by the astonishingly cheap production values. I like that Miike tried something quite different, but I never felt like he was pouring himself into it. It's ultimately a cheap joke that looks like what it is.