After losing his job, the patriarch of the Katakuris family uses the money he received in his severance package and purchases an old, run down house, and then ropes the rest of his reluctant family into helping him turn it into a thriving bed and breakfast. The father bought the property knowing that a road nearby would be expanded soon, and would thus bring more travelers and potential guests. But with the road yet to be expanded, the Katakuris’ “White Lover’s Inn” has had a grand total of Zero guests, a fact that has brought much tension to the already dysfunctional family. Things finally appear to be looking up for the family when a storm rolls by and brings them their first guest. But their joy is short lived when they wake the next morning only to find their first and only guest dead. Determined to keep his dream of a quaint B&B alive no matter what, the family decides to just bury the body and pretend like nothing ever happened.
And their little scheme works…at least until their next guests befall similar fates. Alas for the Katakuris, their little mountain inn seems to be cursed (or maybe it’s just them?) as, through no fault of their own, more people seem to fall victim to their little capitalist venture and end up buried in the backyard. It’s not long before the police show up and the family is forced to finally confront their little web of lies….to song!
The Happiness of the Katakuris is a Japanese 2001 horror/comedy directed by Takashi Miike, and yes, it is also a musical. I didn’t actually know that last part going in, so if you too see the name Takashi Miike and expect to see an abundance of violence only to pause when the cast breaks out into song, don’t worry, you weren’t the only one. But fear not, for the film does feature a bunch of death and violence, it’s just that most of it is accompanied by dark comedy, musical ques and/or filled via claymation sequences, making it completely different from the violence you were likely expecting. This is Japan after all. Gotta keep it weird with things like strange little imp creatures that steal and eat women’s uvula. What that has to do with the rest of the movie is anyone’s guess, but he’s there and he’s featured on the movie posters, so he must be important, even if just in Miike’s own mind.
I’m still not even sure what this thing is supposed to be. Anyone got any ideas?
As with other Japanese style, artsy-fartsy films, this one is filled with a lot of hokey effects, exaggerated acting, outlandish scenes and oddball dialouge. But unlike some other films that may feature these elements, Katakuris campyness is fully and wholeheartedly intentional, so instead of feeling odd it ends up giving the whole picture a lovable sheene of charming goofyness. At any point in the film, scenes (and sometimes characters themselves) will randomly switch to claymation (or viceversa) or the entire cast may break out into song. You’ll also get some surprise dream sequences, a sing-along segment that feels ripped straight out of a variety show, artistic stillframes, and dancing zombies. I know little of that makes any sense, and it all sounds very random, but believe it or not it miraculously manages to come together in a fun, coherent fashion.
Probably the most surprising thing about the movie is that while it starts out as an outlandish story of a venture nightmare scenario, it ultimately turns out to be a heartwarming tale about how adversity brought a family closter together. Father, Masao, has essentially guilt-tripped his family into helping him with his secluded mountain inn. His son, Masayuki and daughter, Shizue, are constantly griping at each other, with the former being an ex con with supposedly sticky fingers, and the latter being a naive divorcee who flits about failing to find love, and neither one of them wanting to be where they are. Then there’s wife, Terue, who’s just trying to keep everything together, and Grandpa Jinpei who’s just….well, really his main purpose seems to be to add snarky color commentary. Initially, the six members of the family are at odds with each other, but by the end they all come to realize that true happiness comes from laughing, enjoying the time you spend with one another, and fondly remembering those who we’ve lost. Yes, it’s all very sappy, but it’s delivered in such a way that doens’t feel too hamfisted, perhaps because the rest of the film is so over-the-top that the conclusion feels quaint by comparison.
Remember how the body was too fat and we had to drop it out the 2nd story window? Good times.
I think the movie’s biggest fault is it’s lack of cohesiveness. Even for a film seemingly comprised of nothing but randomness, parts of it still seem…unfocused. The imp at the beginning, for instance, is given a very prominent part in the beginning and then completely disappears from the film after that. There is no further reference or call back or anything. He just exists to exist, I suppose. Then there’s things like the main characters and how well they perform together. In most of the large music numbers, where all the main characters are interacting with one another, instead of acting as a well choreographed team they seem to be veing for individual attention. Which feels especially odd, because when they’re together in their speaking roles, or in smaller groups, this doesn’t happen. I don’t know if a choreography thing or what, but it is a bit noticeable.
In the end I really ended up liking The Happiness of the Katakuris. It’s a perfect example of the oft mentioned “odd” Japanese cinema. It’s unique, it’s creative, it’s colorful, it’s surreal, but most importantly, it’s fun. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and you know people probably had a lot of fun making. But that doesn’t mean it’s without it’s flaws. It’s not really a true “horror” movie, as it’s just not scarry at all, though it does contain some disturbing and dark imagery. It’s filled with musical numbers, but most of them really aren’t all that memorable. And some of the scenes don’t really feel like they properly connect to the rest of the film. But even if parts of it don’t make sense, it still ends up being an entertainingly wild ride. If you have a fondness for semi-surreal dark comedies and don’t mind the musical interludes, or just like strange movies in general, then feel free to give this one a go. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
The Happiness of the Katakuris is available on a variety of streaming services, including free on Tubi TV.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray.