Monday, September 28, 2009

Softer On The Inside

Gozu(2003)Directed By Takashi Miike
Gozu is one of director Takashi Miike's first significant breaks with traditional approaches to movie storytelling and narrative. The film uses a dream like structure reminiscent of David Lynch, however Miike takes this ephemeral form and directs it to a narrative of which he is more familiar; the Yazkza movie. Miike has made literally dozens of these stories of street toughs and gangland voilence, and he knows the inns at least fictionally of the savage patriarchal world that is Yakuza. Gozu is like a waking Yakuza nightmare, which like his earlier "Ichi The Killer" borrows into and then inverts the Yakuza genre and presents a parallax image of the psycho-sexual dimensions of repression wrapped up with the violence, codes of honor, and expensive suits.Gozu is about a low level Yakuza sent to escort his mentally ailing mentor, to an "elimination factory", after he begins seeing enemies everywhere; in one scene early on a tiny dog is discovered to really be "A Yakuza attack dog, specially taught to kill Yakuza" and subsequently beaten to death. While driving, the pair get impossibly lost when the road they are on suddenly ends in a lake, and then it's one surreal misadventure after the other, that range from hilarious to disturbing often within the same scene.
Somehow the mentor dies, and his corpse disappears, only to reappear now dressed in a women's skin. Most of the film is the young man's attempts to find his mentor wandering through Japan's "Twin Peaks" at its most cryptic. When he finally finds him/her he then has to deal with the implications of why he is really looking for him and what he really wants from her.Once the elder mentor transfroms, Gozu's themes of homosexual repression become a little more clear; our hero does not just want to find his mentor, he just plain "wants" his mentor. Because he is part of a very masculine gangster culture he must literally transform his mentor into a women. This is driven home in the climax (where else but in the bedroom) where after consummating their relationship, Minami (our hero) finds he can't quite dislodge himself from inside of his mentor's vagina (a similar sticky predicament from Miike's even more shocking Passolini update Visitor Q), who then crawls out of the women's skin vis a vis the birth canal in his fully grown adult form (much in the same close up style Lars Von Treir shot Udo Kier in The Kingdom television series). The woman is then placed in the bathtub and revitalized and the three live happily ever after, Minami now having both his sexual components necessary for their relationship; the male and the female. Undoubtedly there is "trippy shit" in this movie (not as much as Izo, Great Yokai War, or Visitor Q), as allot of the images follow a similar thread of psycho-sexual imagery, milk shooting nipples, whips, suits made of human skin, etc. Gozu is definitely a great movie to watch if your looking for something abstract, funny, and bizarre, and Bunuelian, but more the more socially subverise later day Bunuel of "The Discreet Charm" and "The Milky Way", and less like his early purely surrealistic and pre-symbolic days of "Un Chien Andalou" and "La'Aage D'Or", as the film is often described. After much successful time spent in the world of violent men doing violent things, Miike has shown he's capable of giving his super-charged Gonzo style to other subjects.In the case of Gozu maybe it may be the same same genre but experienced from the inside out; like wearing someone's skin and realizing they accidentally left all their most hidden secrets inside. "If you were a child and rode on a bike to a place you've never been, you'd feel like it's real but not really real. Gozu is like that. You go to a place you've never been but you don't have to make any sense as to why or how you are there." -Takashi Miike. Though we rightly do not know why and where we are for most of Gozu, it actually makes more sense than Miike is willing to give away. The cow headed spirit, with a male body (and wearing nothing but his underwear) is called "Gozu" an image Miike appropriates from Japanese mythology which errily resembles Baphomet (the European pagan diety most associated with the devil as a goat), thus doubling the transgression and doubling his fun, "The Japanese are a little strange when it comes to religion, wedding ceremonies are Shintoist and deaths Buddhist. In one of these traditions, there is a character known as Gozu who exists between evil and the human world. He's the assistant of evil." The only historical information I could find on Gozu said, "Gozu-Tennou was originally a Buddhist god worshipped by the monks of the Jetavana monastery in India where he was known as the "ox-headed emperor". While he was associated with bringing disasters and plagues it was believed that in areas where he was worshipped and celebrated as a tutelary god he would also protect against them.During the Meiji Era however, an issue was ordered to seperate Shinto from Buddhism, forbidding the celebration of Buddhist events in Shinto shrines as well as the use of Buddhist words in Shintoism.The shrines of Gozu-Tennou were changed to worship the Shinto god Susano-o, who was often identified with Gozu-Tennou.". In context the shift our hero takes from perspectives on his own sexuality/interchanging man and woman paralles the shift from Buddhism to Shinto; the replacement of one God with another. I got this infor from, because the most information (translated into English), comes from Gozu's current incarnation as a character in the video game Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. The triad relationship all of the characters arrive at by the end, seems close to Miike's religiously multi-cultural (another reocurring Miike theme) "funny Japanese" who marry in one religion and are buried in another. Miike gave screen write Sakichi Sato ("Charlie Brown" from Kill Bill, and also a waiter in Gozu, and one wearing a visible bra.) only a week to write the script, which was at first supposed to be a normal action thriller.When the productions budget was too low for bullet's and explosions Miike and Sato got free reign. In Miike-land when it rains its pours.The next time your dissapointed by an action hero who flies through plate glass like its margarin, there is always a Cow-headed spirit in a Yazuza attack car waiting to take your attentions to some place less well traveled. For all it's strange twists and turns, its not all body horror and brutal black humor ("the seance" in the hotel lobby is one of Miike's intensely uncomfortable comic scenes, pushed to greater depraved deadpan, but less funny "Visitor Q".), in the end there is a "rebirth"; a hapy ending of sorts, especially considering whats happened thus far. Even as the rebirth recalls an image from Gustave Dore's Inferno series.Rebirth and reincarnation are present in many of Miike's films, but in only Gozu one of Miike's most abstract films ( behind "Big Bang Love: Juvenlie A"), is this symbol most concrete.

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