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From Takashi Miike, the prolific director of such shocking hits including Audition and Ichi the Killer comes 'The Sound of Music meets Dawn of the Dead'!

The Katakuris are a family trying to run a peaceful country inn but with a lack of guests there is much excitement for their first visitor, until they wind up dead! As each guest in turn dies in strange circumstances the family agree to hide the bodies but will the cover-ups come back to haunt them…

In The Happiness of the Katakuris scenes of grotesque stop motion animation, surreal musical numbers and zombies combine to make one of the finest horror-comedies ever made.
(Taken from the official synopsis.)

A loose reworking of the 1998 Korean feature The Quiet Family, The Happiness of the Katakuris concerns the efforts of the titular family to run a guest house in a remote mountain location. Unfortunately the few guests that do happen to stray so far off of the beaten path have a nasty habit of turning up dead, so in an effort to save the business from scandal the family decides to bury the bodies in various shallow graves around the property. All of this will sound very familiar to anyone who has seen Kim Jee-woon’s original picture, but in reality this is where the similarities end. While The Quiet Family was a straight-up dark comedy, Katakuris fuses the genres of horror, comedy and musical with mixed results.

Now if truth be told I'm not what one would call a Miike devotee. I've only seen a handful of pictures from his extensive filmography and of those I would have to cite either ichi the Killer or Audition as my favourite. However, there can be no mistaking Miike's hand in Katakuris' demented narrative, which lurches haphazardly from one genre to the next, incorporating some genuinely innovative and surreal visuals along the way. It's an interesting, often entertaining picture, but to be perfectly honest with you it just doesn't quite work for me. Perhaps my perception of  Katakuris has been coloured by my appreciation for Kim Jee-woon’s original, which I discovered quite by accident and enjoyed immensely, but for me the whole struggles to become greater than the sum of its parts.

Don't get me wrong, even with that said there is still much to like about Katakuris, from the odd, non sequitur stop-motion sequences—some of which initially appear to have little to do with the main feature—to the catchy musical numbers. The aforementioned claymation scenes, while completely out of left field, are bizarrely effective and it came as quite a disappointment to learn that their inclusion was largely for budgetary reasons. Of course acting is also solid across the board and direction is competent, both things you'd expect from a Miike feature. In the years away from the film I've embraced a wide variety of Asian cinema, which  have given me a greater appreciation of its charms. Still, as I alluded above, while I like Katakuris well enough I can't in all honestly claim to love it.

Video


The first few minutes of Katakuris had me slightly worried, but then I realised it was almost certainly shot on video as opposed to film. A quick Google search confirmed as much; like numerous other Japanese films it was shot digitally on (then) cutting edge Panasonic cameras, so what we get here is essentially the original digital master encoded to Arrow's usual high standards. It's almost certainly the best looking presentation of the film we'll ever see. The original shooting format would have been 1080/24p, the same as this Blu-ray, and barring some extremely minimal compression benefits afforded by newer technologies I can't see that there's much more that could be done to improve things.

Now I'm not actually a particularly big fan of the film's aesthetic—early digital productions look markedly worse than even today's all-digital shoots—but I have to admit that Arrow's Blu-ray leaves little room for criticism. It's a near-flawless encode of the source material, with no obvious compression issues, no overt filtering and no artefacts beyond those confined to the source. Such artefacts are few and far between; truthfully I only remember an errant white dot during the opening stop-motion sequence, which quickly disappears once the film proper begins. As such I don't really have anything particularly negative to say. The feature itself is a delirious journey through a variety of high contrast technicolour environments (particularly towards the end), which makes for an exhilarating viewing experience. This is an instance where I'm all too happy to shut up and let the screen captures speak for themselves.

Audio


The original Japanese stereo track is presented here as LPCM 2.0 and it sounds very nice to my ageing ears. I didn't notice a whole lot of stereo separation, even during the musical sequences or livelier 'action' moments, but fidelity is good and the overall experience is a positive one. Dialogue is always clean and crisp, with the musical numbers sounding particularly good. There's also some decent low end reinforcement during a few key sequences, such as thunderstorms and landslides. To be honest there's not really a lot more to say; it sounds as good as expected, if not better.

Extras


Arrow has included a comprehensive selection of bonus material, both new and old. Many of the features were to be found on the old Tartan DVD release of the film, but there are also a number of new extras that add real value to the package. Here's a list of what you can expect to find:

  • Audio commentary by director Takashi Miike and guests (in Japanese or translated English)
  • Audio commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes
  • Violent 'til I Die: A brand new interview with director Takashi Miike
  • The Making of the Katakuris: An original documentary from the film’s production featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes footage with the cast and crew
  • Interviews with the Katakuris cast members Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Tetsuro Tanba and Miike
  • Animating the Katakuris: A look at the creation of the film’s stop motion effects with animation director Hideki Kimura and Miike
  • Dogs, Pimps, and Agitators: A visual essay on Takashi Miike by Tom Mes
  • Trailer and TV spots
  • Easter egg
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
  • Booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Johnny Mains and a re-printed interview with Miike conducted by Sean Axmaker, illustrated with original stills
  • DVD Copy

As you can see, the disc is fairly packed! In addition to two commentary tracks we get a new interview with Miike and a visual essay by his biographer, Tom Mes, along with all of the previously available material. The Miike commentary even has an English-translated option, in which the roles of the director and other participants are played by actors, which could be useful if you want to listen in bed at night without reading the subtitles.

Overall


Miike's existential opus might not appeal to everyone with its eclectic blend of black comedy, musical, animation and fantasy (including a memorable karaoke number complete with on-screen sing-a-long lyrics and a Thriller-inspired sequence), but it remains an innovative feature with some genuinely entertaining moments. I've often read it described as a 'Marmite' film, but I'm not so sure that's really the case. It's one of those films where you almost certainly get out of it what you take in with you, which is simply another way of saying those of you predisposed to enjoying experimental filmmaking will probably have more fun with it than those who prefer a traditional narrative, but as I neither love nor hate it there is a middle ground.

The subjective merits of the feature aside, Arrow's dual-format package yet again delivers the goods with a very strong audio-visual presentation (even if I'm not a fan of the early digital cinema look) and a generous selection of interesting bonus material. It's another winner for the label and a must-have for Miike fans.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Happiness of the Katakuris, The
 Happiness of the Katakuris, The
 Happiness of the Katakuris, The
 Happiness of the Katakuris, The
 Happiness of the Katakuris, The
 Happiness of the Katakuris, The
 Happiness of the Katakuris, The
 Happiness of the Katakuris, The


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