A yakuza enforcer is ordered to secretly drive his beloved colleague to be assassinated. But when the colleague unceremoniously disappears en route, the trip that follows is a twisted, surreal and horrifying experience.
As sadomasochistic yakuza enforcer Kakihara searches for his missing boss he comes across Ichi, a repressed and psychotic killer who may be able to inflict levels of pain that Kakihara has only dreamed of.
In order to settle a business dispute, a mob leader murders one of his own teenage sons. The surviving son vows to avenge his brother's death, and organizes his own gang of teenage killers to destroy his father's organization.
Minami, a member of the Azamawari crew, highly respects his Aniki (brother) Ozaki who has saved his life in the past. However, lately Ozaki's eccentricities (like claiming that a Chihuahua hs sees is a 'Yakuza attack dog') have been making everyone wonder about his sanity. Chairman Azamawari is unsympathetic to Ozaki's little outbursts and secretly orders Minami to take Ozaki to a disposal facility in the city of Nagoya. There, the fate of these two follows a twisted path filled with violence, mother's milk, strange locals, and ultimately the disappearance of Ozaki's corpse which Minami now desperately tries to recover. Written by
Takashi Miike's stark, "Yakuza Horror Theatre" presentation Gozu (2003) is an infernal cinematic nightmare of fear and anxiety, played out within a sepia-toned subterranean underworld abstracted to the point of outright parody. Like many of the director's more personal and idiosyncratic pictures, the plot is largely secondary to the uncomfortable atmosphere and wild sense of spectacle presented on screen, as Miike constructs an absurd and enigmatic story of a loyal Yakuza henchman struggling with issues of homosexuality, guilt and desire when he is required by his boss to "dispose" of his mentally unstable brother in arms. This incredibly personal and moral dilemma - in which the central character must juggle the greater notions of loyalty to his boss and the loyalty to his best-friend and mentor-like figure that he's obviously quite attracted to - creates a rift within the world of the film that plunges the whole story into suffocating surrealism, horror and the absurd.
As with his other great masterworks, such as Audition (1999), Birds (2000), Visitor Q (2001) and The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), Miike takes the story in so many continually contrasting and self-consciously abstract directions as to render any notion of a single interpretation entirely void. Instead, he bombards the audience with a seemingly endless barrage of repeatedly warped visions, uncomfortable scenarios and bursts of disarming black comedy to continually shock, amuse and perturb us into a sense of ultimate submission. Eventually, the point of the film becomes less important that the sub-textual ideas behind it and the surreal and over-the-top manner in which the director depicts it - with the tone of the film switching continually from the first scene to the last, as the absurdities of the Yakuza genre that Miike knows so well are persistently ripped-to-shreds and turned into fodder for this meta-physical, psycho-sexual conundrum.
With this in mind, it is best to approach Gozu as a prolonged nightmare, complete with personal demons and elements of religious imagery interweaving, as all notions of character and conventional narrative development are done away with in favour of an almost stream of consciousness presentation where the real, the dream and the purely metaphorical are smashed together and left in shards for the audience to reinterpret as they see fit. With Gozu, more so than any of his other recent pictures, Miike takes his personal style further than even the hall-of-mirrors-like surrealism of Audition; creating a dark and distorted recreation of a nameless Japanese underworld that is labyrinthine and claustrophobic throughout, whilst simultaneously jarring us back and forth with Buddhist symbolism, bizarre caricatures and a continual hum of aural, industrialised ambiance. The whole thing is further heightened by the glowing yellow sepia tones of the cinematography, merging with the occasional shards of red and blue lighting, the lingering shadows around the edges of the frame and the often distancing and exaggerated camera angles and choices of location.
With these factors in place, it would be easy to categorise Gozu as a horror film; however, this simply isn't the case. As with many of Miike's more iconic films, Gozu follows no singular genre or style; moving freely between the characteristics of illogical comedy, knock-about buddy picture, gritty Yakuza-thriller, unrequited romance and psychological horror story seemingly simultaneously. Obviously, when we take this approach into consideration, Gozu won't be the kind of film that appeals to everyone, with a certain interest and familiarity with Miike as a filmmaker required by the audience to really appreciate the sense of humour and the continual shifts in tone. Even then, multiple viewing will be needed for the audience to fully digest the film's central message and layers of potential interpretation. However, it's definitely worth it, especially for anyone with a keen interest in the work of similarly minded filmmakers like David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Sogo Ishii, Ken Russell, David Cronenberg and Shinya Tsukamoto.
Gozu takes the surreal horror and ambient farce of films like The Happiness of the Katakuris and Visitor Q to the next conceivable level of cinematic deconstruction, self-reference and meta-textual despair; as we literally submerge ourselves in a homosexual love story played out against a self-aware purgatory-like construction, rife with the allusions to the filmmakers aforementioned, and further applied alongside the desolate use of landscapes, jarring shifts from parody to horror and the freewheeling structure of the narrative itself. Combined with the fine performances from Hideki Sone, Kimika Yoshino, Tetsurô Tamba and Miike regulars Sho Aikawa and Renji Ishibashi, Gozu is easily one of its directors best and most unique endeavours; an arch, dead-pan, deranged and often dangerous sub-textual trawl through one man's despair and Freudian confusion dressed up as a post-apocalyptic fable of ridiculous gangster theatrics, role playing, gender metamorphosis and pure, existentialist angst.
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