Judge Joel Pearce is always torn up by these "bad film/good presentation" discs, especially when the film in question is from Takashi Miike.
"Everything I'm about to tell you is a joke."—Ozaki
This Lynchian horror comedy from Japanese cult director Takashi Miike is disturbing, unsettling and strange, but runs at a slow enough pace that it never works the way it should. Pathfinder has put the film on a fantastic disc, though, which should make Miike completists very happy.
Facts of the Case
Ozaki (Sho Aikawa, Dead or Alive), a main enforcer for a local mob, snaps one day and kills a puppy outside the restaurant where they all meet. His closest friend, Minami, is ordered to take him to an out-of-the-way town to dispose of him. When they arrive, Ozaki disappears and Minami is forced to journey through this bizarre city in the hope of finding him. What happens after that makes virtually no sense whatsoever, but it's very twisted.
Like Mulholland Drive, there is little point in exploring the narrative of Gozu. At first, it feels like an updated version of a classic "descent into hell" adventure, with the hero tossed into a strange world that doesn't follow the logical rules that he is used to. The people in Nagoya speak in riddles, and it's difficult for him to find a guide to help him find Ozaki.
But then, things begin to fracture and fall apart. The first indication is the innkeeper who lactates uncontrollably, and who offers her milk to Minami. This is the beginning of the sexual grotesquery, which develops into a central theme of the film. Minami's relationship with Ozaki seems somewhat more intimate than it should at first, and some of the events towards the end suggest that the two of them have more feelings for each other than the typical "yakuza brother" relationship. Their boss is a womanizer as well, though he needs certain (disturbing) assistance in order to perform. The cross-dressing restaurant staff and the eroticized lactation of the innkeeper is an analytic wet dream for Freudians, and the end scene does for sex what the end of Audition does for violence.
All of this could have worked well, too, if it weren't for the pacing of the film. Gozu should go past like a blur, with Minami assaulted from all sides by this strange connection of characters. It should accelerate towards the horror of the final encounter, leaving the audience frustrated, baffled and breathless at the end. Instead, it has a painfully slow pace, and a much-too-long running time at over two hours. In between the strange encounters, there are many scenes of Minami wandering around this strange city, but the landscape isn't as interesting as the cast.
And the cast does an excellent job. Minami is the perfect everyman, somewhat innocent and completely lost in his bizarre surroundings. The supporting cast is fun to watch, even when it's become completely futile to try and figure out what's going on.
The transfer is acceptable. The image lacks detail and saturation, but it is anamorphically enhanced, and only seems disappointing because of the general increase in quality in Asian films over the past few years. The sound is only in stereo, but it has been well designed and features good separation. The dialogue is always clear, and the subtitles are accurate and easy to read.
The disc has quite a number of extras. There is a commentary track with two critics, Andy Klein and Wade Major, who speak with great intelligence about this film and the Miike canon in general. At times they get off topic, but their observations and discussions are always interesting. There is a small essay by Tom Mes, which would have been much more practical if included as a liner note. There are also interviews with Takashi Miike, led by Andy Klein and Wade Major. These are interesting interviews; it's fascinating to get a chance to hear more from these critics who were already included in the commentary track. There is also a round table discussion with Eli Roth, Guillermo Del Toro, and Takashi Miike. It's a really cool discussion, with three like-minded directors from different parts of the world.
After all of the interview footage, there is a short production featurette that shows how Miike created some of the more creepy scenes. It ruins some of the magic, but I am always amazed at the creativity needed to craft scenes like this on a low budget. There are also some text biographies and still galleries. This is certainly the most impressive lineup of extra features on a Miike film in region 1—it even gives ArtsmagicDVD a run for their money.
Although this is one of the best Miike DVDs that have been made available in North America, it's a somewhat underwhelming film. Fans of both Audition and Mulholland Drive will probably be thrilled with it, but fans expecting another Ichi the Killer or City of Lost Souls will find it long and dull. Still, fans of Miike's work will enjoy exploring the special features, which are the best glimpses into his work that I have seen to date.
Pathfinder has redeemed the weaknesses of Gozu with a fantastic special edition. Not guilty, even though I'm not sure I'll ever be able to drink a glass of milk again.
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