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cast: Hideki Sone, Sho Aikawa, Kimika Yoshino, Shohei Hino, and Keiko Tomita

director: Miike Takashi

130 minutes (18) 2003
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to rent or buy on video

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jeff Young
Slightly undermining this cult director's largely enviable rep for 'warped genius', by (for the most part) being merely warped, without much in the way of genuine innovation in evidence (let alone of the genius variety), Gozu is nonetheless an appropriately startling, comedy horror, gangster drama from the new Japanese god of low budget weirdness. Any film that opens with a yakuza guy picking up a yapping Chihuahua and then savagely - but, I hasten to stress, comically - beating the helpless pet to death, so that dog's blood runs freely down the windowpane of a small cafe, is bound to infuriate and repel, or boldly endear itself to viewers who favour darker amusements, depending upon which side of the rickety old 'animal rights' fence you usually stand on.

With everyone questioning the sanity of mobster Ozaki (Sho Aikawa), small time yakuza Minami (Hideki Sone) also ponders whether his mentor has just recently become alarmingly eccentric, or mentally defective. Tasked with driving troubled (and ultimately troublesome) Ozaki to a 'disposal facility' in Nagoya, the hapless Minami somehow manages to accidentally murder, and then misplace the corpse of, his former crime boss. When his car breaks down, Minami finds himself stuck in a somewhat backwards, provincial town, and a barely welcome guest at a hotel run by a splendidly camp landlady (Keiko Tomita) - who eagerly provides guests with milk issued from her own breast. When a stranger who claims to be the lost Ozaki contacts the quietly distressed Minami, he desperately wants to believe the missing whack job is actually still alive somehow, and so he unhappily agrees to a cloak-and-dagger meeting. What's really bizarre, though, is finding out that Ozaki has become a beautiful woman (Kimika Yoshino), who urgently wants to have sex with Minami - just before she gives birth to a fully-grown man...

With an off kilter, leisurely paced narrative, queasily macabre tone, unpardonable sexual deviancy and unexpectedly surreal hi-jinks, Gozu is one decidedly uneasy and unfortunately impure mix of engagingly contemporary drama and fantastical farce. The wallpaper of its realism has a tendency to clash with the bargain priced special effects' furnishings, such as the wilfully meaningless 'symbolism' of a cow-headed oracle, or the admittedly unsettling but ineptly staged resurrection scene. Unpredictability can just as easily work against the entertainment value of a film (a director of Miike's experience must know that), and such is the case here when abstractions and incongruities from the cinema artist's dreamland are simply left wide open to misinterpretation and incomprehension so that sheer bewilderment results.

I'm generally in favour of ambiguity in screen texts. I never insist that every little detail is explained to me. However, the brainstorms of lackadaisical juxtaposition and a preference for absurdity over rationality at every turn of events that inform Gozu reach a point where the filmmaker isn't defying conventions, or testing the boundaries of acceptable 'good' taste (all that stuff was done to death by the likes of Fellini and Pasolini way back in the 1960s and 1970s, anyhow, right?), it only suggests that the director is championing arbitrary weirdness for the sake of it.

"If you thought you'd seen it all - think again," says the DVD packaging blurb. We have seen it all in the last century of movies; and there's nothing particularly new or especially interesting here, folks.

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