by request: the happiness of the katakuris (takashi miike, 2001)

To some extent, you know what you are getting when you see the name Takaski Miike. About the first of his movies I saw, I wrote, “13 Assassins is also one of the more gory movies you’ll see, if that bothers you (you don’t always see everything, but you know it’s happening, which can be just as bad).” “I have to hand it to Miike”, I said of Ichi the Killer, “he’s committed to his art. If he decides to make a movie about sadists and masochists, then by golly he will, even if he has to stuff it into an otherwise standard yakuza movie.” (According to Wikipedia, “[D]uring its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, the audience received "barf bags" emblazoned with the film's logo as a promotional gimmick”.) But it was Audition that I found most “inspiring”:

Miike isn’t pussyfooting around, here … he wants to dig deeply into obsession and misogyny, and he is willing to accomplish what he wants, even if it means throwing narrative coherence out the window, closely followed by “good taste”. Even fans of Audition will admit that it is almost impossible to watch the long final segment of the film, which isn’t to say that segment is gratuitous (although it often is) or unnecessary. In the context of the film, it is the best possible ending. That it is also revolting, that it has inspired plenty of walkouts in theaters over the years, that it is entirely possible that there is less than meets the eye, well, let’s just say it is a complicated movie.

The thing is, while Miike’s films can border on torture porn, that’s not all he’s up to. His ability to create startling, unexpected beauty in the midst of horror is great, and his kitchen-sink approach allows room for comedy, as well. Plus, I should note that I’ve been selective in my choice of Miike films to watch ... apparently he also makes comedies and other movies intended more for families.

But I haven’t seen those, so when The Happiness of the Katakuris was recommended in one of the comments to Ichi, I assumed “the happiness” would be meant ironically. And I came at it mostly unspoiled, as I prefer. So I didn’t notice the advertising tagline that read, “The hills are alive with the sound of screaming”.

Yes, among other things, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a musical. A musical with a natural setting (a bed and breakfast near Mount Fuji), to further push The Sound of Music comparisons. But it’s also reminiscent of other movies that weren’t necessarily musicals: Eating Raoul, for instance, and Moulin Rouge. Night of the Living Dead, too, while we’re at it. Meanwhile, Miike throws in a few Claymation scenes (I wasn’t kidding about the kitchen-sink).

It’s nice to see one his movies that retains the ability to surprise the audience without having to hold our hands over our eyes (not too much, anyway). 13 Assassins remains my favorite, but I haven’t yet seen a Takashi Miike movie I didn’t like. 7/10.


what i watched

Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002). Another example of my favorite made-up genre, “It Wasn’t What I Expected.” Critics have long given Adam Sandler movies poor reviews ... he received several Emmy nominations for his work on Saturday Night Live, but he also has three Razzies and countless nominations in the latter category for his films. His movies are popular, which is why Netflix finances them (contracted now for eight), and they are probably critic-proof. I’ve mentioned a few times that I hated the first Sandler movie I saw (Billy Madison) so much that I immediately gave up on him. In all the years since, I’ve only seen two I can remember: Click, and Funny People. Like Punch-Drunk Love, those movies are somewhat atypical for Sandler movies, which may be why I’ve seen them. Perhaps most important, I like some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies, especially Magnolia and Boogie Nights. I didn’t like Punch-Drunk Love as much as I liked those two, but I liked it more than any other Adam Sandler movie I’ve seen. I’ve admitted before that I see decent acting chops peeking out of his work when he isn’t being an idiot, and in Punch-Drunk Love, he does very well at swinging between a man frightened of his own shadow and a man with terrible anger inside who can explode at any given moment. Emily Watson is good as the love interest, and as usual, Philip Seymour Hoffman makes the most of his small part. I guess this is now my favorite Adam Sandler movie. #27 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century (uh, no), and #467 on the TSPDT all-time list. 7/10.

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016). I liked Cloverfield very much, but it’s been more than eight years since I saw it, so hopefully I’m forgiven when I say I couldn’t remember it. My wife actually had me beat on this ... when I asked if she wanted to watch 10 Cloverfield Lane, she went on about Godzilla, which is about right (all that came to my mind was the found footage angle). Luckily, despite there being some connection between the two Cloverfield movies, in fact this most recent film keeps its attachment to the original so obscure that it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever seen the first one. I was taken by the adrenaline rush of Cloverfield (“it brutalizes the audience by sticking us right in the middle of the horrified emotions of the characters that only a few minutes earlier seemed so mundane”). I noted that there was no suspense in Cloverfield, which is what sets 10 Cloverfield Lane apart from its predecessor, for it is mostly suspense until the final section. It’s just a different kind of movie from Cloverfield. John Goodman makes a great is-he-a-villain, and the movie is never boring. But it isn’t brutal. And it’s 20 minutes longer than the original, and there’s no reason for that. 7/10.


humans

It was about a year and a half after the end of Season One when Season Two of Humans arrived in the States. While the story isn’t particularly complicated, it does feature lots of characters, and I confess I began the new season not quite remembering all that had come before. After Season One, I wrote:

An English series about a time in the future when robots in human form work as servants for humans. ... It features the usual batch of English actors I’ve never heard of, all doing good jobs, with special kudos to Gemma Chan as one of the “synths”. Oh yeah, William Hurt shows up. Humans is a good combination of social commentary and personal experiences ... I wouldn’t say it breaks new ground, but it does well with the old ground. It’s certainly intelligent enough to maintain interest for another season.

Hurt’s character died late in Season One, but he is replaced in S2, in fame and stature if not in the narrative, by Carrie-Anne Moss. This means there is still one actor in Humans that I’ve actually heard of. Of course, by this point, I know the returning characters, and they are still doing good jobs, with Gemma Chan still worthy of singling out. I’d also toss in Emily Berrington and Ruth Bradley. It may be more than coincidental that all three actresses play synths ... they make more of an impression than the human characters.

Humans benefits from short seasons. There have only been 16 episodes so far, just the right amount to fit the amount of story and characterization Humans offers. I said before that it doesn’t break new ground, and that holds in the new season, as well. The show is well-done, but it doesn’t stray too far from other robots-in-society stories we’ve known. While the synths are shown sympathetically, after two seasons the title of the show still holds ... ultimately we’re watching from the perspective of the humans.

I’m not trying to damn Humans with faint praise. I like the show quite a bit. But it’s just another show about humans and machines that can’t quite live up to the greatness that was Battlestar Galactica. And while the straightforward presentation is helpful to clods like me who have trouble keeping up, it comes across as rather mundane compared to shows like Sense8 and Legion. B+.


my neighbor totoro (hayao miyazaki, 1988)

I watched this a couple of years ago with our ten-year-old grandson, who was kinda bored ... he’s the Star Wars/Lego type. This time, it was our four-year-old grandson, going to a movie theater for the first time. His parents make sure he’s not inundated with media, and Totoro seemed like a nice first trip to the movies.

Here’s what I wrote earlier:

We watched the Disney English-language dub, which I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t really recognize any of the voices, including the stunt-casting of Dakota and Elle Fanning as sisters. It was fine, in any event ... I think I only notice English dubs when they are terrible. I liked the movie as much as ever, even with the semi-negative vibes in the room. I think Princess Mononoke is my favorite Miyazaki film, but to be honest, they all kind of blend together in my mind as the years pass, so I couldn’t really explain my preference. My fondest memories are of Spirited Away, probably because I love the soot thingies. Even the lesser movies are enjoyable, though, and often quite loony. #235 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.

That earlier viewing was at home, so one of the biggest differences this time around was being in a crowd, with plenty of parents with their kids. I was reminded of the first time I watched a Studio Ghibli movie in a theater, Ponyo:

The best part about watching this in the theater ... was listening to the kids in the audience. They were enjoying the movie very much, right from the beginning, when the Studio Ghibli logo came on and a kid sitting behind me said to his parent, “it’s Totoro!” You see, I had forgotten Miyazaki makes movies for kids. I assume they’re more like Fantasia, movies for acid heads to enjoy while tripping.

This time again, there were Totoro fans in the audience, and of course Totoro made a lot more appearances this time. It was impossible to watch the movie without trying to imagine what was going on inside my grandson’s head. There were a couple of times when he was scared, but he seemed to enjoy himself, and afterwards, I bought him a cushy Totoro toy:

totoro

I’m always up for watching My Neighbor Totoro, but honestly, the best part of this was the experience of going with Félix.