Quick Takes: The Happiness of the Katakuris, The Babadook, Terror Train

katakurisThe Happiness of the Katakuris [カタクリ家の幸福] (2001)

Starring Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki
Directed by Takashi Miike

It’s a stretch to call Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris a horror movie, but it does require being something of a horror fan to truly enjoy its multi-genre insanity. The premise is pretty standard horror movie fare, but don’t be fooled; this is anything but a standard film. The Katakuri family has opened a Bed & Breakfast in a remote part of Japan and are very happy when they receive their first guest. They are not so overjoyed when they discover he’s killed himself, which plays out on-screen in one of the finest moments of movie musical I think I’ve ever seen. Yes, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a warped, horror-ish musical comedy… and it’s a blast. According to the booklet included in Arrow’s wonderful Blu-Ray edition, there’s apparently a whole genre of films similar to this in Japan, but until I see definitive proof I’ll regard The Happiness of the Katakuris as a unique product. Besides, even if wacky Japanese musicals are a thing, I can’t imagine the whole genre is quite this inspired. It’s also worthwhile to note that Miike’s film is a remake of Kim Jee-Woon’s The Quiet Family, but I haven’t seen that one so I can’t offer any comparisons. If you’re into weird cinema that strays far, far off the beaten path, or you’re looking to completely baffle your conservative, mainstream friends and relatives, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a fantastic selection. Plus: Tetsuro Tamba (who I’m familiar with from his roles in Hong Kong films such as The Water Margin)!

babadookThe Babadook (2014)

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Chloe Hurn, Jacquy Phillips, Bridget Walters
Directed by Jennifer Kent

In general, I’m one of those people saying that modern horror just isn’t up to snuff. But then something like The Babadook comes along and proves me completely wrong. Artfully well-crafted and featuring an exceptional pair of performances from its leads (Essie Davis & Noah Wiseman), The Babadook is gripping from start to finish. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll remain vague, but what set the movie apart is that it engages as both a visceral horror movie and as an intellectual piece. I spent the whole film in rapt attention, creeped out to the hilt and always questioning and deconstructing what the film was feeding me. It’s even more impressive to learn that this is the feature debut of director Jennifer Kent! Cross your fingers, say the name of your favorite horror film three times into the mirror, and wish upon a star that The Babadook is the beginning of a stellar career and not a lone spark in the darkness. Either way, The Babadook is fan-fucking-tastic, and you need to check it out.

terror-train-movie-poster-1980-1020541661Terror Train (1980)

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Derek McKinnon, Sandee Currie, Timothy Webber, Anthony Sherwood, Howard Busgang, Steve Michaels, Greg Swanson, Vanity
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

You can quickly describe Terror Train as “a slasher set aboard a train,” but to do so is to overlook the fun of the movie. It’s a slasher on a train! With crazy Halloween masks, Jamie Lee Curtis and magic courtesy of the one and only David Copperfield! But maybe that doesn’t do it for you; you’re more of a discerning cinephile type. Well, Terror Train marks the directorial debut of Roger Spottiswoode, director of such cinematic classics as Turner & Hooch, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and Tomorrow Never Dies! If that’s still not enough cred for you, Terror Train features cinematography by Oscar-winner John Alcott, who got his big break/promotion while working on something called 2001: A Space Odyssey and went on to shoot such classics as A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend! As you might have figured out by now, I don’t have much to say about Terror Train! Nonetheless, it was a fun ride, and fans of late ’70s / early ’80s horror will most likely have a good time with it, too.

11 comments to Quick Takes: The Happiness of the Katakuris, The Babadook, Terror Train

  • I know that there are a ton of Japanese musicals encompassing virtually any successful franchise for cross promotional purposes, including weird stuff like Sailor Moon. When I hear them referenced, I usually think of them as stage productions rather than film, but maybe not? EIther way, Katakuris sounds pretty crazy. I’ve got to check out more of Miike’s films.

    • It is crazy and in none of the ways I expected. If there is a whole genre of movies similar to this, it’s an untapped goldmine! And yeah, more Miike is definitely in order! He’s got a shitload of movies, too. A few days ago they announced he was going to make a live-action Blade of the Immortal. I never really wanted a movie of that because it’ll be so truncated and presumably watered down, but with Miike doing it I’m very hopeful.

      • Yeah, I wouldn’t normally have any hope for a live action Blade of the Immortal, but with Miike directing it… Well, maybe it has a chance of being good.

        • Yeah it definitely depends on a lot of little things coming together just right, but I have hope with him at the helm. I tried watching the anime a few years back but just couldn’t get into it because the art was all clean. So who knows if I’ll be able to accept a live action version, no matter the director. I’m too close to the comic. I’ve been trying to actually read them all since sometime last year when I realized that he had finished the series. I’m maybe halfway done now.

  • i don’t think I’ve read a bad review of The Babadook yet. Good to see you liked it! Go Australia!! LOL!!!

  • Paragraph Film Reviews

    I love cracking out Katakuris now and again – even to just watch the opening/ending clay-mation pieces, which are just mental. The song with the flying sailor/con-man always gets me too. I wouldn’t bother much with The Quiet Family, because it’s so deadpan and straight-faced that if you don’t see it first, you’ll be completely underwhelmed and overly familiar with it, after HOTK.

    Miike’s one of the world’s most baffling mysterious directors – he did SEVEN films in the year he made this (Ichi The Killer, Visitor Q, Agitator also of note!!). You couldn’t pick a more different bunch of films. He could be a good candidate for your next movie series?

    • Yeah I loved the claymation bits. I wish I hadn’t known they were coming so they could’ve taken me by surprise more. I think the con man is my favorite character.

    • Seven films in one year is astounding. I think there are a few years that Chang Cheh made 6 movies, but I don’t remember if he ever hit 7. So impressive when the quality is still of a certain level. Miike is one that I’d love to explore fully! I’m not exactly in a position to think about starting new series but he’s on the shortlist for sure.

  • Been thinking about getting “The Happiness Of The Katakuris”, as I love Miike’s stuff. Have you seen “The Great Yokai War”? It is his attempt at a family friendly fantasy movie. It is as crazy as that sounds!

    So, yeah, I am the one guy that doesn’t like “The Babadook”. Not just thought it was overhyped (it certainly was), but still good- nope, flat out hate it! The lead characters writing is so bad, they often change their wants/ motivations between scenes, and I found them both impossible to empathize with. I also am 200000% positive that the filmmakers of this movie hate children, quite a lot; every child in the movie is the worst person in the world. If they are parents, I feel truly awful for those kids, as their lives will suck. One reference scene for the kind of thing I mean- cousin and main boy in tree house. She continually taunts him, and try as he might, she finally gets under his skin and he pushes her. While that dipshit little girl didn’t deserve something that extreme, she is still a little puke and deserved a severe punishment; part of the whole point is that the boy is maybe disturbed, so we can’t fully blame him for his actions there. Yet, the aunt is a total bitch and doesn’t even bother finding out what happened, and the mother doesn’t much care. Both those kids needed a good talking to and grounding. Mind you, I can’t wait to be a dad, I use to work at a preschool- I love kids, so a movie getting me to state that maybe kids suck a load of elephant dick is quite the achievement. Nothing was creepy- oh, lights flicker! and nothing was haunting (psychologically horrifying)- oh, she’s depressed. Hated this!

    “Terror Train” has a disappointing ending, but I really like it until then (the fact that no one remembers this one kid, from that terrible day is impossible to buy). The train setting is unique, the acting is good, and the costumes allow the filmmakers to have fun with how the killer is dressed, etc.

    • No I haven’t seen Great Yokai War yet. I’m woefully behind on Miike films. I’ve seen only 4-5 I think.

      Wow, you really don’t like Babadook! I understand what you’re saying about the kids, but it didn’t bother me at all. I feel like some of it might be a little exaggerated because we’re seeing things through the eyes of the mother who is directing a lot of negativity towards her son and kids in general. And as someone who deals with deep, long-term depression, the movie captures that hopelessness exceptionally well. For me anyway. 🙂

      It is impossible to imagine that everyone in Terror Train has completely forgotten about the traumatized kid, that’s true, but I’m completely OK with buying into that for the “greater good” of enjoying the movie. I’m less concerned with any kind of logic as long as it’s enjoyable and the fx work is good.

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