Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris is a giant mixed bag of a movie. If you have seen his much-celebrated Audition, you should not go stumbling into this film expecting something akin to that. This is actually a musical comedy horror movie. Somewhat like “Audition”, you might regret watching it the next day, but for largely different reasons.
Now here’s a spoiler alert: I do reveal plot details. If you’re the type who doesn’t like that, then take heed now!
It’s oddly not a bad movie, despite my critiques below. It’s just not all that great. It’s tricky to pinpoint exactly what I didn’t care for about it, and I could probably rewatch it at some point. The best, most immediate critique I can mention is the movie’s irrelevant opening. It really seems to have nothing to do with the overall story, and it can easily lead one to be confused or frustrated. That being said, it is a goofy sequence, most certainly deserving to stand on its own. Because it has a strange creature in it, I initially assumed it was called a “Katakuri” and the story would be about it. That is not the case. So what about the rest of the movie?
‘The Happiness of the Katakuris’ Makes the Mind Wander
The basic premise is that a family patriarch, Masao Katakuri (Kenji Sawada), purchases a home to use as a bed and breakfast, hoping to capitalize on a major road being constructed nearby. Things don’t go as planned, and the few guests they receive provide major problems (they die under freak circumstances, basically).
A good horror movie commands attention. Sure, they often have slow parts to build tension or familiarize us with characters’ personalities and situations, but there are usually peaks and valleys (so to speak). However, some movies come across as more scattershot, like it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens. For better or worse, ‘The Happiness of the Katakuris’ draws thoroughly from that well, and it ends up being a little too zany for its own good, or not zany enough (not quite in that Sam Raimi-esque Goldilocks zone).
Now, I’m making a complicated critique here because, maybe if I had been in a better mood, I would have appreciated this movie more. However, I found my mind wandering away from The Happiness of the Katakuris throughout, and I don’t think it’s just me being a bad viewer/reviewer. Yes, an occasional body appears, and the Katakuri family is forced to face the grim fact that the inn will no longer exist if they don’t hide the corpses, but it’s a premise that stretches thin after a while (especially when paired with corny musical numbers). Plus, because the film isn’t quite as weird or gross as Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, it doesn’t quite stick to the ribs in the same way (I mention that in case someone assumes I’m incapable of liking horror musicals).
What Might Have Been
There are a few moments in The Happiness of the Katakuris where it seems the police are investigating the scene. However, much like the film’s intro, these moments don’t really build up to anything that clearly connects to the overall story. I can’t even say they distract from the overarching story, because they’re not interesting enough to be a distraction.
So, basically, when the movie ended, I was more interested in contemplating what I would have done with the story. For example: Maybe the tragic deaths ultimately drive the Katakuris to sell their bed and breakfast house and leave the neighborhood, with the family as a failure. Then, of course, you could have the construction of the road, making it more of an ironic tragedy (also relatable to anyone who’s lost a business due to frustrating circumstances, or who knows someone that has).
Also, I imagine a film that alternates between “now” and ten years later, when Masayuki (Shinji Takeda), Masao’s former criminal son, explains how his father’s bed and breakfast and a road brought him back to a life of crime. To me, that could have been a pretty interesting framing device. Hating a road project not being finished is a unique frustration, and potentially fairly interesting and funny. Or, of course, one might delve into the consequences for Masao’s daughter, Shizue (Naomi Nishida), as another example.
I don’t know what the point of The Happiness of the Katakuris really is, nor do I understand why the dad decided to call their business the “White Lover’s Inn.” What is a “white lover”? Still, I might re-watch this film some other time, perhaps where I’m simply in a better mood, where I’m more susceptible to its particular eccentricities. Despite how this looks like a “bad review,” I do think part of the failure may have been on my part. Like at least a few of Takashi Miike’s movies, this one likely requires some work from the viewer. That’s sometimes true of the best movies out there, and I have a feeling I was missing something here.
What are your thoughts on The Happiness of the Katakuris? Let us know in the comments!