Gozu (2004) Movie Review

“Gozu” is another recent effort from the apparently tireless Takashi Miike, bringing his total of films released over the last couple of years to a staggering 12, though it’s quite possible there are even more. With this non-stop flood of titles, it’s inevitable that there is a varying degree of quality, or perhaps more accurately, of comprehensibility — for Western viewers, at least. “Gozu”, which was accepted in competition at the 2003 Cannes film festival, is definitely one of Miike’s stronger films, at least for those already converted to his distinctly off the wall, grotesque style.

Funny and deeply twisted, the film provides a fascinating and surreal journey into the mind of an increasingly confused man, told in a powerful manner which is both visually and intellectually intriguing. Packed with deviant sexual symbolism and some astounding scenes of madness, the film is a true original and one of the best from Japan in recent years. However, for those unfamiliar or not enamored with the director’s work, or indeed for those without a willingness to accept a film whose sense of logic leans towards the deranged, “Gozu” may be little more than an infuriating, distasteful puzzle which they will find little inclination to solve.

“Gozu” is at heart a road movie, albeit a transgressive one. The plot is centered upon Minami (Hideki Sone, also in Miike’s “Agitator”), a fledging yakuza under Ozaki (Sho Aikawa, one of the most recognizable figures in Japanese cult cinema, having appeared in many Miike films, including “Dead or Alive”), whose increasingly unhinged and violent behavior is starting to worry the gang’s boss (Renji Ishibashi, another Miike alumnus, recently in “One Missed Call”). After an incident involving a Chihuahua, the boss decides that Ozaki has become too much of a liability, and instructs Minami to take him out to a remote location, kill him, and dispose of the body.

Conflicted by his feelings for the seemingly crazed Ozaki, Minami accidentally completes the task en route, killing his charge in a minor car crash. However, this only signals the start of his troubles, as when he reaches his destination, Ozaki’s body disappears. Minami finds himself stranded in a bizarre town, searching for clues as to the whereabouts of the corpse while aided by some local yakuza eccentrics. He’s also disturbed by the town’s odd inhabitants and haunted by visions which suggest that Ozaki may in fact still be alive.

This is a highly simplified version of the plot, as “Gozu” is best enjoyed without being forewarned and in all its unpredictable, lunatic glory. The film is described as being ‘Yakuza Horror Theatre’, which is as good a term as any, as it includes horror, drama, and a severe sexual identity crisis, all wrapped in a black sense of humour. The film was written by Sakichi Sato, who also wrote Miike’s bloodbath “Ichi the Killer”, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s fascinating “Bright Future”. Sato’s script, in terms of events and characters, is very interesting, and helps everything to hang together as a film rather than a mere series of odd anecdotes.

“Gozu” is certainly a very strange film, though it flows thematically and has a genuine sense of internal logic. While it is true that events in the film do not always make a great deal of narrative sense, they function effectively as glimpses into the character of Minami and his delusions. The film seems to focus chiefly on his troubled sexuality, primarily his relationship with Ozaki, and with the various women he meets during the course of the film. Since this is a Miike film, these themes are explored in a grotesque visual manner, with a great deal of perversion and the liberal inclusions of various bodily fluids. His direction is actually quite restrained here, and this benefits the film, giving a tense atmosphere of barely constrained repression — at least until the grand finale. There is a great deal of symbolism employed, some of which is actually quite subtle, and may not be noted during the initial viewing.

The only thing working against “Gozu” is its positively glacial pace. The film runs for over two hours, and not a great deal actually happens. Miike is concerned with character rather than action, and that can make things drag a little at times. However, the film does have an engrossing, almost ambient atmosphere that keeps the viewer interested, both in terms of waiting for plot revelations and in seeing what happens to poor, confused Minami.

Fans of the director’s more excessive work may well be disappointed, as although there is a great deal of disturbing imagery in “Gozu”, there is very little actual gore, and only minimal gunplay. Similarly, although this is technically a horror film, there are few obvious scares, and the fear is more of the creeping, psychological variety, generally based around questions of identity and sexuality in ways that would make Cronenberg blush.

Overall, “Gozu” is an excellent film, which comes highly recommended to more open-minded fans of the director or cinema in general. Although slowly paced and confusing in places, this is a wonderfully surreal and surprisingly intelligent road movie which is both disturbing and oddly touching.

Takashi Miike (director) / Sakichi Sato (screenplay)
CAST: Hideki Sone …. Minami
Sho Aikawa …. Ozaki
Kimika Yoshino …. Female Ozaki
Shohei Hino …. Nose

Buy Gozu on DVD