October 20, 2003


Starring Hideki Sone and Sho Aikawa

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

International acclaim brought by the film Audition hasn’t slowed down the unnaturally prolific Japanese gore-meister Takashi Miike. He has made 57 films since 1991, and Gozu is one of the four films he is putting out this year. Because of Miike’s incredible productivity, the quality of his films has been wildly inconsistent. Fortunately, his latest is among his better works – minimalist, but to greater impact.

Premiered at the 2003 Cannes International Film Festival, Gozu blazes the trail for the new “yakuza horror” genre. The story begins as a yakuza boss orders a hit on the increasingly paranoid gangster Ozaki (Sho Aikawa of the Dead or Alive trilogy). Minami (Hideki Sone), who regards Ozaki as a brother figure, must carry out the order and drive him to the “yakuza dump” in Nagoya. There, things take a dark turn after a freak accident and Ozaki mysteriously vanishes. Minami must embark on a strange journey to locate him.

This film re-teams Miike with Sakichi Satô, the screenwriter for Ichi the Killer. Surprisingly, the film bares more atmospheric resemblance to the quietly frightening Audition than to the relentless sensory assault that is Ichi. Gozu is rather muted and restrained stylistically, and it progresses slowly to create unnerving dread. For the most part, Miike has spared us much of the gory details that his fans have come to expect until the film’s hair-raising climax. For instance, we see racks of suits made of dead yakuzas’ skin, but we don’t see the process of them being skinned.

Yet unlike Audition, the film is packed with body fluid-filled, crude juvenile humour that sporadically provides comic relief. Highlights include a café run by scary transvestites; a Dumb & Dumber-like tag team in silver and gold get-ups who talk about the weather ad nauseam; a hyper-lactating innkeeper who bottles her own breast milk for sale; and a yakuza boss who uses ladles as sex toys. If you are a die-hard fan, you probably have already recognized many of these stunts from Miike’s past films.

Miike’s fans will probably consider Gozu a God-send, especially for those disappointed by the slew of his older, blander films that recently came out on DVD. But for the uninitiated, Miike’s bag of tricks may seem pointless. Audition, while brutal, did offer commentary on gender roles and expectations in Japanese society. With that serious theme replaced here by crude humour, some viewers may find it harder to justify Miike’s schtick.

© 2003 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.