Takashi Miike is a very inexhaustible and prolific director; the man has directed many different films in different genres that I believe that he is one of the most versatile filmmakers around. He is also arguably one of the most darkly audacious director in contemporary Japanese cinema. “GOZU” (a.k.a. “Cow-head”, Gokudo Kyofu Dai-gekijo: Gozu, 2003) is arguably one of his most mystifying, wanton, provocative and demented displays of Miike’s imagination. Miike re-teams with Sachiko Sato, who adapted “Ichi The Killer” for him. Miike seems to be drawn to the Yakuza gangster themes but believe me when I say that “Gozu” is anything but your standard Yakuza film. I’ve always said that the best way to approach Miike’s films is to have no expectations and the less that you know, the better. The reward into Miike’s films is the journey itself.
Minami (Hideki Sone) is a member of the Azamawari Yakuza crew. He highly respects his Aniki (brother) Ozaki (Sho Aikawa) to whom he is greatly indebted to for his life. However, when Ozaki becomes paranoid and eccentrically imbalanced, Minami is asked by their elder (Renji Ishibashi), to escort him to the yakuza dumping site in Nogoya, Minami becomes torn between his loyalty to Ozaki and following the orders of their boss; but instead Ozaki appears to peg out in the car as soon as they approach their destination and to make matters worst, the corpse goes missing. Now in his quest to authenticate Ozaki‘s death, Minami must find the body; this quest brings him to a nightmarish journey that brings him face to face with several creepy characters from a transvestite restaurant owner (cameo by its writer Sato himself), to Nose, a man with a skin condition (played by Shohei Hino), to a hyper-lactating woman (Keiko Tomita) and her brother (Harumi Sone), a demonic half-human half cow entity, and mysterious beautiful woman called Sakiko (sexy Yoshino Kamiya).
Takashi Miike begins his film as an offbeat goofy yakuza film and he plays havoc with the gangster stereotypes. The film also starts off a little slow, actually a little less trite and more bizarrely eventful than the romantic trappings of “Audition”. While “Gozu’s” payoff may not be as brutal as in that earlier film, “Gozu” is nonetheless very visceral and the manner in which it sears your brain is still similar to being scorched by fire. “Gozu” is one very mystifying affair, its mind-bending qualities may just equal or even exceed the films made by Cronenberg and Lynch. For the viewer to truly appreciate this film, one has to understand a little bit about the beliefs in Buddhism. The film has several Buddhist themes such as the cow-headed human (Gozu is the guardian of Buddhist Hell), beliefs in reincarnation and in Karma and different inner personalities. I know the film may make a lot of people scratch their heads and honestly some parts of the film doesn’t really cohere but Miike manages to keep its focus, giving the viewer sketches of his imagination and generates a darkly surreal atmosphere that exudes a feeling that something sinister, shocking and eerie is about to be revealed.
There is no doubt that Miike is a master of visuals of strong composition, body-horror and squirm-inducing sexual weirdness that he isn‘t at all shy to demonstrate in his films. He is also capable of the cogent dissemination of ideas and is capable of great humor. He has this brilliant skill in subverting genre techniques in exploring an ugly facet of his culture, that taps into deep seated cultural anxieties; in essence, male sexual anxiety that no other filmmaker can equal. “Gozu“ may just be as twisted as “Visitor Q“ and the characters may even be more bizarre in this film. Miike also displays human behavior in this film, and as usual it is bewildering and very weird. The script by Sato never relents as he throws in every twisted, darkly satiric idea that can come to mind, that between him and Miike, they come up with ideas that become more and more grotesque the more you get into the film. “Gozu” may show subtle qualities of a dark comedy, but never for one second does it stray from its horrific tone.
The characters in the film are very intriguing as we become privy to Azamawari, the gang boss who has a fetish with spatulas while having sex, Ozaki who in the film’s opening act kills a Chihuahua who he says is a yakuza attack dog (don’t worry the dog is fake), Minami who had just recently been circumcised, a woman who lactates milk and may have an incestuous relationship with her brother; the film has all the dark elements of a comedy. Throw in some homosexual panic, a trans-gendered reincarnation and a disquieting rebirth sequence (that may well be the most graphically shocking scene in cinema) and the movie can just entice as well make his viewers uneasy. There may be some borrowings in the film but the style and the graphic scenes carries the absolute Takashi Miike signature. It is Miike’s and his alone.
“Gozu” is a film with a warped-out story. But it sure helps when you have can squeeze out some very good performances from the actors. Miike just encourages his performers to portray his characters by feeling ‘natural’; it is a bold approach that complements his visual style. Bold, daring, unsettling and demented, “Gozu” is all that its title suggests. It is a risky and brilliantly executed, Miike is able to repeat his compelling and repelling effect that he has demonstrated in most of his films. Much like in “Audition” and “Visitor Q”, Takashi Miike gives us one of the most memorably graphic scene of a climactic rebirth that will forever be etched in my brain. It is not a film for everyone but “Gozu” is one of Miike’s best films.