Gozu

You took the ‘WTF???’ right out of my mouth
★★★
☆
Released: 
2003
Director: 
Takashi Miike
Starring: 
Hideki Sone, Sho Aikawa, Kimika Yoshino, Shohei Hino, Keiko Tomita
The Setup: 
Guy is assigned to kill his mobster boss. Things get bizarre. Then things get REALLY bizarre.
Discussion: 

I had never seen a movie by Takashi Miike, and someone recommended this one to me based in its somewhat homo overtones. It wasn’t until I was halfway through it that I went to the IMDb to read about it, and almost everyone said: “If you’ve never seen a Miike film, DON’T start with this one.” Well, too late for me.

This is one of those DVDs that has logos [for Pathfinder Pictures and Klox Works] or something that you cannot fast-forward through. Once you start the film, you see the same logos again, and again can’t skip past them. Then you discover that the subtitles do not automatically start. So you have to stop the movie to start them, and when you start again, you have to sit through those logos AGAIN. And if you choose to stop the movie at any time… I went through this on numerous occasions, and kind of ended up hating the DVD makers AND Pathfinder Pictures by the time I was done with it… It’s as though the ONLY thing they want you to remember from this movie is that it’s from Pathfinder Pictures.

So we begin in this café, watching this bizarre video playing. Part of it says “Boys be ambisia,” and I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like some David Lynch red room shit. Then this gangster, called Ozaki, comes in to meet with these other gangsters. He tells the other one “don’t take this seriously. Everything I say is a joke.” Then he refers to a tiny little dog being played with by a couple outside the window. He tells the gangster that it is a trained Yakuza attack dog, and that he hopes the other can get it before it gets him. Now, all I knew about Miike movies is that each of them have at least one moment that will make you stare at the screen, open mouthed, saying “WTF?!?!?” So I was ready to expect anything, and at this point I was like, “Holy shit! That little dog’s gonna kill that guy!” And I was dying to see how this tiny dog would do it. You can imagine how bummed I was to find out that no, it’s not really a Yakuza attack dog, Ozaki is just crazy. What a bust: how awesome would it have been if this tiny little yappy dog had killed some guy?

Anyway, relatively low gangster Minami is assigned to take Ozaki somewhere and kill him, because everyone knows he’s plumb bonkers and is becoming a little dangerous. Already we can see that this movie is shot in a very expressionistic way that is highly reminiscent of David Lynch. Ozaki almost kills some woman, but also saves Minami’s life, leaving him with many a mixed feeling on his mission.

SPOILERS > > >
Minami is driving fast to a meeting point, when he suddenly slams on the brakes. This causes Ozaki, in the back seat, to fling forward and hit his head. It seems that bridge is out and there’s just an open river. Some interpret this as a symbolic river Styx, as from this point until just before the end of the movie, it seems that Minami has entered this supernatural world populated by people who may or may not be real, and cannot escape. Anyway, he goes back to the car, and Ozaki is dead! He was killed by the impact. So Minami drives into this town and goes into a boarding house, and when he comes back out the corpse is gone!

It then goes into this long sort of dream-like series of bizarrities that will cause you to have your own ‘WTF?!’ moment. Mine came when Minami had the corpse in his car, and went in for tea, where he was served by a Japanese drag queen wearing a bra over his clothes, overseen by two overbearing mother types, and served both coffee and tea, even though the only ordered one. Then he meets a guy who has a skin condition that turns half of his face into this white, peeling mess. Then both a man and then a woman come on to him… hard. You have some disturbing food imagery [some VERY disturbing food imagery], then he’s driving again, but no, that’s just a dream. Then the owner of the boarding house comes into her room and offers to sleep with him as a prostitute, and says she still produces breast milk. As you, viewer, are sitting there going “No… no… no…” she squeezes her breast and milk comes out, then runs down her leg! Then he meets a cow-headed figure that drools nasty thick sap, and licks his face for an extended period of time.

All this time, Minami has been trying to find Ozaki. What he’s learned has led him to this dump, where it seems that Ozaki was crushed flat inside this car. Then Minami is led into this freezer where the flattened skins are hanging like costumes, and this woman is revealed… who says she is Ozaki, now transformed. And she does look like Ozaki in the face. That night, back at the boarding house, she comes on to him, but he refuses, though after she has gone to sleep he raises the covers and looks at her body. It looked to me as though she still had a penis in her panties. Anyway, the next day he returns to the gangsters and attempts to explain.

One of the older gangsters takes a shine to the new Ozaki, and wants to have sex with her, which requires that he stick a ladle up his ass [please don’t ask]. Minami realizes he doesn’t want this guy to have Ozaki, so he electrocutes him through the ladle. Then Minami and Ozaki have sex, and suddenly Minami can’t pull out; he drags Ozaki across the room. Then the full-grown male Ozaki is reborn out of the vagina of his female self, and in the end the three of them go out on a date.

So what of the homosexuality? We have to talk about this now, while we’re in the spoiler zone. The person who wrote and recommended this to me described it as “a man becomes a woman so he can love another man.” This may be, but even so, I think that just a small portion of the movie. And, maybe I missed something, but I didn’t get the sense that Ozaki became a woman specifically to love Minami, nor did it seem like he was in love with him before. And at the end Ozaki is back, so it’s not as though it is literally the same whole person. I guess my interpretation of this part would be that at the beginning Ozaki was crazy, perhaps because he had both of these aspects warring within himself. Then he disappears for a long while, and when he comes back as a woman, things are not completely gelling for him either. At the end he literally divides into male and female halves and this is where we left, with his two halves going out with Minami, although the implication [to me] was that Ozaki the male was also “on a date” with Ozaki the female. The fact is, I really have no clue.
< < < SPOILERS END

But anyway, WHAT the fuck?!??! What? Why? Who? This is just so bizarre. In retrospect, I think that maybe I should have taken everyone’s advice [if I’d had it before I started watching] and watched a different Miike movie first. I get the sense that this one is somewhat of an anomaly amongst his films, that is, that the other ones, while very strange and disturbing, are not this elliptical and dreamlike. That dreaminess, in fact, became kind of what lost me interest about the movie; if it’s all a dream, why do I have to watch all this? Is it ultimately going to come to anything? I’m sure this is part of why I lost enthusiasm for this movie: I watched the first hour of it one night, and it was about two weeks before I got around to watching the rest, because I really wasn’t that eager to get back to it, especially if it’s going to be just bizarre for a very obscure purpose. And once it was over… I still kind of felt this way.

Ultimately, I’m not sure I know what to make of it. Perhaps it’s just a dream-state or Minami is transported to another spiritual plane [perhaps death], has his adventure, and comes back. I am SO glad we didn’t find out that he died in the accident and has been dead the whole time, because those movies make me feel SO jerked off—and NOT in a good way. This was certainly interesting, and DID definitely deliver the ‘WTF???’ moments I was promised, but other than that I’m not sure I got too much out of it. I suspect everyone on the IMDb is right: this shouldn’t have been my first Miike film.

Should you watch it: 

It is definitely interesting and worth watching, but may just end up being quite confusing. Everyone on the IMDb says if you’ve never seen a Miike film, DON’T start with this one.