**1/2 out of ****
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Starring: Hideki Sone, Shô Aikawa, and Kimika Yoshino
Released: July 12, 2003
Runtime: 129 min
Reviewed by: Philip Hogan
Takasi Miike’s Gozu is a very hard film to review. It almost dares you not to review it. It is confusing for the sake of confusion; chaotic for the sake of chaos. While there may or may not be some underlying meaning and significance to the storyline and the overall symbolism, Gozu is the kind of film that if you want to try and make sense out of it, you can, but if you want to wallow in it’s excesses, then you are free to do that as well.
The whole thing opens with members of a Yakuza clan meeting in a little restaurant. One of the members informs the big boss, “Everything I’m about to tell you is a joke. Don’t take it seriously.” He then claims that the tiny dog leashed outside the restaurant is in fact a trained Yakuza killer, and then goes outside and beats the dog to death, to the bewilderment of everyone inside as well as the audience. Right away you are treated with the director’s purpose; a free flowing balls-to-the-wall excursion into violent surrealism. The Yakuza elements of the story serve only as a loose (make that very loose) framework, not unlike his Japanese counterpart Seijun Suzuki, who often dealt with oddball surrealism in his ‘60s Yakuza films. Miike’s approach feels more like a Japanese Mulholland Dr., only instead of a Hollywood fetish, there are multiple scenes featuring breast milk and disturbing ways of sexual gratification. And if this were not enough, it is only in the final act when the film starts to venture into ‘80s Cronenberg territory.
Surrealism is enchanting to a point, but at a running length over two hours, this film begins to wear pretty thin after awhile. Once one of the storylines is momentarily resolved, when a Yakuza discovers the fate of a missing brother, then the film feels like it has nowhere else to go. That one tinny tiny element of story that was driving the film further into bizzaro world ceased to exist, and was soon replaced by more outlandish aspects to address. By this point, the novelty of weird for the sake of being weird starts to diminish, and what follows in the rest of the film are issues of reincarnation and sexuality that not only do not make sense, but do not go well together at all. One death scene in particular rates up there at the top for the grossest, most painful to watch death scenes ever. I do not often watch things that I know will make me feel disgusted, so this might be tame to what else is out there, but I found it so sick that I could not enjoy the brilliance behind the final scene, because I was still in pain after watching the climatic death sequence.
The English translation for the title literally means “cow head”, the purpose for which becomes clear halfway through the film, in a bizarre encounter in a hotel. This also serves as the turning point for the film, where it goes from being interestingly weird to repetitive and boring, a criticism that I usually don’t use in a negative way. Fans of the Japanese horror movement of the past ten years will find much to enjoy in Gozu, though others might be best advised to stay away, especially if you have a low tolerance for gross out extremes in cinema.