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Gozu (2003)
Director: Takashi Miike

review by Mike Philbin

You're a member of the Azamawari yakuza gang. You've got the outline of your yakuza tattoo on your back. Your name is Minami. Your immediate superior Ozaki (the man who once saved your life and whom you call 'Brother') seems to be going nuts - he sees paranoia in seemingly everyday things; yakuza-killing dogs, yakuza-killing cars. He is becoming a liability. Azamawari's head honcho asks that you dispose of 'Brother' in the Nagoya disposal area. It is your job to kill this lunatic, and then dispose of his body so that it is never found.

What happens? En route to Nagoyo, you accidentally kill 'Brother' and then lose the body. Not only do you lose the body but the spirit of 'Brother' seems to live on in the form of a cow-headed apparition who haunts the backroom of a local Ryokan run by a very strange couple, the breast-milking owner and her masochistic brother. You're starting to see the world through a totally surreal lens. Aren't you starting to suffer the same paranoid delusions as your deceased 'Brother'? Aren't you just projecting your devotion to his memory onto the weirdness all around you?

That's the basic premise of this latest film by flawed auteur Takashi Miike. Why flawed? Well, it's the same with all maverick film directors, they are at best hit and miss and at worst self-indulgent louts with a camera crew and a budget.

As a film watcher more than a film reviewer, I've been a big fan of Miike's 'horror' output in the form of Ichi The Killer, Visitor Q and Audition. I've never wanted nor intended to watch any of his yakuza or triad movies. Same with Beat Takeshi, I've never wanted nor intended to watch any of his gangster films. They just don't rock my boat. In fact, Gozu is about as close to yakuza as I want to go, movie-wise (though I did get a bit of a horn on for Black Rain - no, it wasn't because Michael Douglas would later be the ass double for Sharon Stone's sex film Basic Instinct, but it might have had something to do with Ridley Scott at the helm).

There are some concepts, themes and images in Gozu that are just stunning and out of this world. Sure, the cow-ghost is creamy. Sure the rebirth of 'Brother' is gorgeously handled. Sure, the milk-factory Ryokan owner is truly disturbing. And I like very much the other yakuza with half a white face due to some skin illness - he's a great obsessively caring character. Gozu's real binding philosophy for me is love, and dedication to the gang.

Someone mentioned an underlying homoerotic angle. I don't think that's the case with Gozu. But there is, undoubtedly, a huge loyalty angle, a sexually transcending brotherliness expressed throughout this weird film that is taken to the visceral extreme with the re-uniting of Minami and his not-really-totally-insane-after-all dog-killing boss 'Brother'.

Was this Miike's best film so far? No. Was it an affirmation of the director's bravery and genius? Yep. Will I be watching future Miike films? You bet.

DVD bonus features included the original theatrical trailer and a Miike film trailer retrospective that was sorely lacking the Ichi The Killer trailer.
Gozu

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