• Gozu

    Released by: Pathfinder Pictures
    Released on: November 23, 2004.
    Director: Takashi Miike
    Cast: Renji Ishibashi, Sho Aikawa
    Year: 2003
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    The Movie:

    Takashi Miike has made a lot of strange films in his career. Visitor Q, Full Metal Yakuza, and Audition are all strange movies with strange characters in strange circumstances but those films were all reasonably straight forward, at least in regards to their narrative. Gozu, on the other hand, takes some of the themes that Miike has touched on in many of his earlier efforts and replayed them through surrealist territory, making a nod or two towards classical mythology along the way. The result is one of the more unique films that this very unique director has made.

    The story itself, at least on the surface and at its most base, is pretty simple. Ozaki (Sho Aikawa of the Dead Or Alive trilogy) is a Yakuza who is starting to lose it. He sees the local chihuahua populace as a threat and many of his theories and actions are no longer making much sense at all. Minami (Hideki Sone of Zebraman) is his Yakuza ‘brother’ and he’s been asked by their boss (Renji Ishibashi of Agitator and Deadly Outlaw Rekka), a strange man with a taste of having sex with women while he has a ladel up his ass, to bring Ozaki to the dump where they’re going to take care of the problems he’s causing once and for all.

    That’s it in a nutshell. That’s the setup and that’s all you need to know to get going with the film. Once that setup is out of the way, and the two leads cross the river, it all goes into a sort of Twin Peaks-esque spiral that sounds strange but actually does kind of make sense if you think about it and pay close attention. At least most of it does.

    Ozaki and Minami head out on the road in a slick black Mustang convertible. Minami hits the brakes suddenly and causes Ozami to break his neck – which makes his job a lot easier, or so it would seem. Once they cross a river (this is the key point in the film in which things start to go nuts – are they crossing into Hell?), they stop at a restaurant (run by a cross dresser who has supposedly been dead for a few years at this point) so Minami can have something to drink, Ozaki disappears and Minami has to set out to find him. His tire goes flat when he runs over a bone, and he meets up with a man who’s face is half white and peeling off named Nose (Shohei Hino). The two head off together to find Ozaki and Minami ends up staying in a strange inn where a lactating woman and her brother attempt to make contact with the dead. Throw in a strange nocturnal visit from a man with a cow’s head who licks Minami’s face, a freezer full of the skins of tattooed Yakuza, and a whole lot of breast milk just for kicks, and the film winds up with an incredibly bizarre scene that gives new meaning to the Oedipus Complex.

    The comparison’s to the films of David Lynch and David Cronenberg is inevitable. The restaurant and hotel scenes have a very Twin Peaks like atmosphere to them, and some of the supporting characters in Gozu wouldn’t feel out of place in Laura Palmer’s home town. The finale fits in with Cronenberg’s recurring theme of body horror. The story itself seems to be based on the legend of Orpheus and Miike infuses it with touches of sexual insecurity and homoeroticism (sometimes portrayed in his films as gang loyalty) – par for the course if you’ve seen a few of his Yakuza films. The director infuses his trademark sense of black humor and while this is hardly the gore fest that Ichi The Killer was (Ichi and Gozu share the same screenwriter in the form of Sakichi Sato) the film is full of bizarre and gross imagery sure to conjure up some unsure feelings in less seasoned viewers.


    Gozu gets an anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer on this region one release. As is typical with a lot of modern Japanese films, the colors look a little muted. There is some mild print damage that occurs in the form of the odd speck here and there, which I found rather surprising for a film this recent. While the day time and lighted scenes look pretty solid without any compression artifacts or serious edge enhancement, some of the darker scenes do show some slight pixelization in the shadow areas. Overall it’s a good transfer, though it isn’t perfect.

    The Japanese sound track is lively and clean without any sign of hiss or distortion present. Levels are balanced nicely and the sound effects and background music never overshadow the dialogue. The optional English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typos. Bass response is nice and resonant and the high end comes through without any tinniness to it.

    Film critics Andy Klein and Wade Major offer a full length running commentary track. Pathfinder has used these two on some of their earlier releases and they do here what they do best on those discs, and that is to give a basic and informative overview of the film, its history, and some facts about those who were involved in its creation. They make some valid comparisons between Gozu and some of Miike’s other films and offer some interesting insight into what some of the symbolism in the film could mean (parts of the movie do leave themselves wide open for interpretation – that’s half the fun!). While you don’t get the same amount of fact filled theory and dissertation that you get from Tom Mes’ commentary tracks on Miike’s films, you do get a very well rounded discussion that proves to be interesting and a worthwhile listen.

    There’s also a behind the scenes featurette that runs for just under twenty minutes in length. This is an interesting look at what goes on behind the camera on one of Miike’s sets. We witness various cast members getting their make up done, we see some shot set ups, and overall are given a pretty decent look at what goes into making one of his movies.

    Up next is a lengthy video interview with director Takashi Miike that is moderated by Darren Gross. This segment is broken up into installments, and there are segments that include Miike sitting with directors Guillermo Del Toro (of Blade and Hellboy) and Eli Roth (of Cabin Fever).

    There is also a decent sized stills gallery and some informative text biographies for Miike and a few of the cast members seen in the film. The extra features also contain an option that lets you play the film’s theme song as an audio only track, which is kind of interesting as the music is key in establishing the mood in this movie. Rounding out the supplements are some interesting film notes from author Tom Mes (who wrote Agitator, a tome on Miike’s work available from Fab Press) as well as the films original theatrical trailer and the U.S. theatrical trailer.

    The Final Word:

    While the video quality could have been better, Gozu gets an otherwise very good DVD release from Pathfinder with some excellent extra features and a nice sound mix. The film itself is a trip and a half, and fans of Miike’s unique take on things should enjoy this surrealist Yakuza film.