Gozu (Cinema Epoch, R)

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dvd_gozu.gifGozu is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen, and also one of the most brilliant.

Gozu is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen, and also one of the most brilliant. If you're a fan of J-Horror you're probably already familiar with this film and with its director, Takashi Miike; if not, you really should check both of them out. Miike's work is sort of like David Lynch crossed with David Cronenberg, but he goes so much further with his ideas that his work makes theirs look tame by comparison. Gozu takes you on a very strange psychosexual journey, which is all the more disturbing because it takes place in completely ordinary surroundings similar to those in which we all live.

It starts like an ordinary yakuza film. Ozaki (Sho Aikawa) has been acting strange lately (there's a memorable scene with a "yakuza attack dog" which has become legendary: it's featured in the trailer which you can view here) and Minami (Hideki Sone) is ordered to bump him off. Ozaki acted as a mentor to Minami and is also the object of his unrequited affections; Minami is not pleased by this assignment, but if you're not the boss you have to do what the boss says.

He accidentally kills Ozaki in a car accident, then the body disappears and Minami is off on a very strange journey whose weirdness gradually builds to possibly the creepiest scene ever put on film. And I'm not talking about the guy with the giant cow's head and baggy underwear who gives the film its name and is featured on the DVD cover, or the middle-aged innkeeper who expresses her breast milk into bottles and sells it to school kids, or the gang boss who finds a new use for soup ladles (and dies in a most appropriate manner). In fact, I won't even say what it is because I don't want to spoil the experience.

And that's what Miike's films provide that is lacking in many others which may seem superficially similar: an experience which you won't easily forget. His work is as different as can be from gross-out exploitations films of the type featured in Not Quite Hollywood; the horrifying images in Miike's work are there for a purpose beyond shocking the audience. But if you are easily frightened or offended by screen images, then this is not the film for you.

On the other hand, if you're willing to be distressed for a brief period of time as the price of being taken on an amazing cinematic journey, then you owe it to yourself to check out Gozu which was recently re-released on DVD in a two-disc "collector's edition" by Cinema Epoch. The set includes the subtitled film and a commentary track by film critics Andy Klein and Wade Major (particularly enlightening if you're new to Miike's work or to this film), an essay by Bill Gibron of popmatters.com, an interview with Miike, a production featurette, almost two hours of unedited "behind the scenes" video (some of which turns up in the production featurette as well), the trailer, stills, and the title theme song (which is even stranger than the film itself).

Gozu was a low-budget film intended to be released direct to video (a theatrical release followed its positive reception at Cannes in 2003), and this shows at times in the visual quality, but the problem appears to be in the original film rather than in the transfer. Sound quality is good and this DVD set offers good value. If you're new to Miike's work, the extra materials will be especially welcome, while even if you're a longtime fan you will probably still learn something new from them. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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