Miike’s celebratedly unpredictable style ensures that viewers will be kept guessing throughout this film: a mission to kill that results in a surreal journey. Skinny underdog Minami (Hideki Sone) looks like he wouldn’t hurt a fly, yet he has been given the job of picking up his mentally unstable Yakuza boss, Ozaki, to kill him. And Ozaki really is crazy. We get to know this right from the start: the film opens with him insisting a little Chihuahua is a ‘Yakuza attack dog’ and shooting it dead. Minami has to shield the general public from his boss’s rages on the way to driving him to a remote location to perform the grisly deed.
Ozaki is perfect as the greasy, paranoid boss, and yet Minami clearly looks up to him. The interplay between the shy underling and his greasy, paranoid boss makes for some sardonic humour, which takes a dig at traditional Japanese concepts of masculinity. To the viewer it’s clear that it’s impossible for Minami to live up to the expectations of his boss. Of course, when the time comes he can’t go through with it, and kills him by accident (he brakes too abruptly and Ozaki suffers head trauma). He stops at a café to use the bathroom, only to find the body gone and his resulting search for the body draws him into an ever more bizarre world, but viewer beware, if this is ‘just’ a dream, it’s a long and confusing one.
Again, the key note is irony. Minami’s initial burden of having to kill his boss has been replaced by the need to locate his corpse. But before only his Ozaki was crazy, but now, everyone he comes into contact is. In a reversal of Japanese etiquette norms, the staff who serve him in hotels, restaurants and shops are rude and strange, this new world is inhabited by gender bending transvestites, lactating prostitutes and sexually depraved individuals. Minami almost wets himself when an older prostitute makes advances. He’s clearly not man enough to kill or be sexual.
Despite the Yakuza backstory, Miike wisely avoids making another Dead or Alive. As ever, Miike is obsessed by the weird sexual behavior of his characters. The big yakuza boss can only get it up when sticking big spoons in his anus; lactating women (remember Visitor Q?) fill up milk bottles for the open market, and the grand finale – a rebirth sequence – looks like something borrowed from one of Cronenberg’s weirder movies. Minami’s journey runs on a little too long, and the finale raises more questions than it answers. Is being part of a male hierarchy intrinsically akin to homosexuality or sexual depravity? Or does it just make for deliberately unconventional cinema?
Gozu is released by Tartan in the new Tartan Asia Extreme series. The picture quality is rather grainy and the 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack does not deliver much of a sound range, but as an extra we find some nice Miike trailers giving the viewer an overview of his work.