Horror Bites - Got Milk?

GOZU (2003)

I feel trying to write an introduction to a Takashi Miike film is often of a pointless endeavour, since just finding his work and watching it without any research is probably the best approach. You generally know what you're in for - to expect the unexpected. Whether the synopsis features yakuza thugs or modest businessmen, the stories never really stick to any standard archetypes. So when I offer a brief explanation that Gozu is about two gangster friends, one who is tasked with taking his colleague to be killed because he has begun to lose his mind... you know that this is probably not going to be an exploration of the expected tropes. While there are some themes of brotherhood and loyalty, much of the plot here is far more bizarre.

The opening of the story is almost a total false start. At a small meeting, Ozaki (Show Aikawa) starts to show signs of becoming unstable, and declares that a tiny dog being walked outside their window has been bred to kill them all. His subsequent actions raise a few eyebrows amongst the group (and the viewer) and so his friend Minami (Hideki Sone) is told to drive Ozaki out to the countryside where the syndicate can murder him. However after a few mishaps he vanishes and it's unclear whether he is alive or dead. Minami is left to explore a nearby village to discover his whereabouts, which is where things start to become particularly odd.

The middle section falls firmly into the category of 'weird people in weird towns' as Minami attempts to get information from the locals, including another yakuza group and the nearby business owners. People in caf├ęs sit having the same conversation over and over, making dog and cat noises over the phone. A guy with white paint on half his face sits reading a magazine in the middle of a field. Gang leaders put soup ladles up their backsides while having sex, but still have time to answer phone calls. And a lot of very suspicious bottles of milk are sold.

There's a lot of atmosphere to everything, and plenty of awkward dark comedy. It looks and feels grimy from the visual palette to the story's inhabitants. Minami is too reserved to speak out over some of the bizarre goings on, and it's clear from flashbacks that Ozaki was the more brash and vulgar of the two. It's a brief moment of actual humanity in all the nonsense, but it works. However this middle section is probably the weakest part of the story because of pacing alone. Some things go on for far longer than necessary and clues along the trail are slow to appear. The locals are all either very weird or very unhelpful, and it's never really clear what the syndicate is doing this whole time.

It moves along at its own pace, as things get more and more surreal. Some shots are amusingly sudden and unexpected, while others go on and on to the point of cringe inducing comedy-horror. One of my favourite moments involves a hotel owner beating her husband, after telling Minami that he's a medium and the pain will allow him to contact the spirit world. He clearly can't do anything of the sort, but she merely retorts that it doesn't matter because it's what the customer wants. Eventually things go right over the edge with visions of cow-headed creatures, and unexpected reveals in the plot, what little there is.

The strange imagery and strange events start to compete with one another, and soon it's unclear what is a symbolic nightmare and what is real life. There's never any real explanation; no obvious running theme is offered. Is this all some kind of metaphor for motherhood, brotherhood or sexual frustration? Is the nature of being a yakuza underling being explored? Is it just a joke about life in the sticks or small business owners? All of the above? I have no idea. In the end it's still pretty entertaining, while offering some pretty unsettling sequences along the way. For a very ambiguous mixture of crime drama and horror, it's at least unusual enough to seek out.