When I opened up the watch list to suggestions for this year’s horror movies, I was definitely expecting to get some strange ones. Mostly, I assumed I’d be getting some terrible C-grade horror just because everyone loves a chance to make someone watch a terrible movie. What I didn’t expect was a Japanese horror comedy musical that also randomly turns into Claymation puppets at times. I was also not expecting the light-hearted death musical to be directed by Takashi Miike.
The Happiness of the Katakuris follows the misadventures of the Katakuri family as they attempt to open up a rustic mountain inn after the father was laid off. When they finally get some customers to their remote location, they have nasty habit of dying off. So what is a family to do except sing, dance and bury the dead so as not to ruin the family business? Along the way, they will all learn a little something about finding happiness in being with your family. They also have a dance number with the corpses of the customers that have died off. So, you know, good times all around.
Right from the start you can tell that this is going to be some crazy shit. The opening scene is a woman pulling a clay angel thing out of their soup which then turns the whole world Claymation as it rips out her uvula and floats across the city with it. Any time there is something that would have been either dangerous or expensive to shoot due to special effects it is just turned into a Claymation scene. So we get clay puppets hanging on the edge of a cliff, fighting while they hold onto the vines that are consistently poking out of the sides of cliff faces. If it wasn’t for the fact that the movie was already a surreal musical, this might have seemed like a weird, cheap ploy to get out of doing difficult shots. As is, it just added to the already insane feel the movie had going for it.
Most of the humor that comes in the movie is based on how, when it isn’t about burying dead bodies, the musical numbers in this are all ripped directly out of other types of musicals. We get a number between the mother and father that turns into a full night club production and is also done karaoke style with the words at the bottom of the screen. It also ends up being surprisingly emotional towards the end. There is a scene where the father begs a murderer to spare his wife’s life and then the son gets stabbed trying to protect his father so they all gather around him and sing about missing him (though it turns out it’s just a scratch and he is being a big drama queen about it).
In all, the movie was really well put together with all its disparate themes and strangeness. While not entirely my favorite movie, I have to give it at least a 4 out of 5 just on the basis that the guy that directed Audition and Ichi the Killer could make something so fun.
Favorite part of the movie: The love song the daughter has with someone that ends up being all in her head as she lies on the floor wiggling around and humming.
Least favorite part: There is a decent amount of filler in the movie with the family just eating or sitting around which wasn’t entirely necessary in a two hour movie.