Awesome Inflation

One example of the titular happiness.And no I’m not talking about Pamela Anderson’s chest. ha-HA! Implants.

I’m talking about how it’s getting harder and harder for something to qualify as “awesome” these days. People have uttered the phrase “there’s nothing any cooler than robot ninja ghost pirate monkeys” so many times that it’s ceased to be true. Somebody could release The Ghost Ship of Dread Captain Jojo-san 3000 today, and I’d go see it, no doubt. But I can guarantee that it wouldn’t be satisfying.

Because if it were possible to make a good movie out of that concept, there’s no way somebody wouldn’t have already done it. We are rapidly depleting our reserves of coolness.

So I’m saying that’s probably why I was disappointed by The Happiness of the Katakuris. Back when I was reading about Takashi Miike and The Great Yokai War, I kept seeing mention of the movie on websites. It was always described as a big departure for Miike; depending on the obsequious-to-hipster ratio of the site, it was either further proof that Miike could do anything, or evidence that he’d sold out.

Either way, I’m damned if I know what to make of it. Did I go into it having too high expectations? If you just read a description of it, it’s a:

  • Japanese
  • black comedy
  • musical
  • with animation,
  • a schmaltzy message about the meaning of life,
  • scenes filmed as if they were from a Japanese TV commercial,
  • and a dance number performed by zombies.

So on paper, it sounds like The Perfect Movie. The reality, though, is just kind of… there. There’s plenty of imaginative stuff in there, sure, but it either draws too much attention to itself, is paced so poorly that it doesn’t have any impact, or is executed so amateurishly that you’re left thinking how cool it could have been as opposed to how cool it turned out.

The movie starts out with a young woman in a restaurant who finds a small white creature in her soup. She pulls it out and screams, the creature sees her uvula, thinks it’s a heart and he falls in love. So he bites off her uvula and is then carried away by a raven. After that is a sequence about five minutes long where the creature fights the raven, gets dropped, dies and is re-hatched from an egg, plus some other stuff I’m forgetting, all in seemingly random order. The creature, the bird, and most of the backgrounds are done with claymation — more proto-“Sledgehammer” quality animation, not Wallace and Gromit caliber. None of the characters from this sequence are seen in the movie again.

I was about to say that “none of this has anything to do with the rest of the movie,” but in a way, that sequence has a lot in common with the rest of the movie — it’s wacky but not in a particularly entertaining way, it’s amateurish, and once it’s over, you’re left wondering what was the point. And the movie has lots of amateurish claymation, but it seems that it was used for budget reasons more than stylistic ones — every time an action sequence starts, it switches to claymation.

So there are deaths followed by musical numbers, and there are transvestites on television, and big musical love songs, and stories about Princess Diana, and a guy drinking water from an inexplicably polluted stream and then getting diarrhea, and a love song done in the style of a karaoke video (complete with cheesy 80’s lighting, and subtitles), and a song with zombies dancing on a landfill, and a volcano erupts, and then a finale song in the style of The Sound of Music.

And still, my reaction is just, “well that happened.” And I honestly can’t tell if it’s because I’m too jaded, or if it’s because the movie isn’t very well-done and it doesn’t have as much imagination as it thinks. The zombie musical sounds cool until you remember it’s already been done. Most of the rest feels like an early Peter Jackson movie.

And of course like with everything “post-modern,” it’s impossible to tell if the acting and effects are intentionally amateurish, or if they just didn’t do a particularly good job. What makes Japanese commercials so cool is that you never get the impression the people making the commercials are on the outside looking in — they’re in it 100%. That’s not to say they’re ignorant of how batshit crazy it all is, just that they’ve committed themselves to being completely and totally batshit crazy to the best of their abilities. (Take the Final Fantasy Potion ad, for example). Adding ironic detachment to that would ruin everything.

But in the end, I didn’t even dislike the movie. The actual ending is kind of sweet and lives up to the promise of the whole concept. And nothing in it, even the nonsensical opening, is blatantly bad. It’s all just not nearly as cool as it could’ve been, and therefore ends up saying nothing. I’m still no big fan of Miike’s, obviously, but at least Audition and The Great Yokai War were memorable.