Gozu is probably the flat-out strangest, most mind-bending movie from Takashi Miike; a Japanese auteur who has made built his repuations on movies which are some combination of bizarre symbolism, Black Comedy, Darker and Edgier, and Gorn.
Starting ostensibly as yet another Yakuza movie, it takes a major turn into the surreal very soon into the story. Yakuza junior member Minami is ordered by the head of the gang to take his increasingly erratic and unstable senior member Ozaki out to a remote location, where he can be disposed of by an allied "cleaner". On the way, Ozaki dies mysteriously; and the story takes a turn for the decidedly surreal, when Ozaki's body disappears in a nearly-deserted, run-down suburb of Nagoya. Nothing appears to make much sense after that, either to the viewer or the protagonist. Minami endures a number of episodic, and confusing, adventures, and meets a cast of highly deranged characters — including a middle-aged woman who bottles and sells her breast milk; a huge, minotaur-like being wearing baggy underwear; several crossdressers who run the town's cafe; an unreliable guide with an odd skin condition; and a beautiful, enigmatic woman who claims to be his brother Ozaki.
At first, the entire film seems to be just a collection of random weirdness. However, it actually makes sense with the knowledge that nearly all the characters and events which take place after the arrival in Nagoya are based on events and figures from Greek and Japanese mythology; and that the entire story represents Minami's sexual awakening, and his coming to terms with both his homosexuality and his love for Ozaki.
It was originally planned as a straightforward action movie intended for the Direct to Video market (the Original Video market, as is called in Japan, does not have the same stigma of poor quality attached to it as it does in many other countries), but it Miike found the screenplay was far too ambitious for the budget. Rather than turning down the project, Miike decided to run with it. He asked Sato Sakichi to completely re-write it, and Sakichi did so in so short a time that he claims he was pretty much writing from his subconscious. After a successful screening at Cannes, it was released theatrically. The new script was produced in two weeks; and much of the dialog, particularly for pivotal scenes, is completely improvised.
Warning: Due to the nature of the story, the list below may contain spoilers.
This film provides examples of:
- Beautiful Dreamer: The way Minami scans sleeping Female Ozaki in her bed.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: The size of Minami's manhood is a recurring topic.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: During one scene, one of the actors breaks character to yell at the store-owner's wife for her terrible Japanese line delivery.
- Catapult Nightmare: The way Minami jumps from his cow-head dream.
- Collector of the Strange: The junkyard owner has a collection of hundred or so tattooed yakuza skins.
- Gorn: Surprisingly little for a Miike film; but there are a few moments.
- Happy Ending: Boss is dead, brother returns to the world of the living via the vagina of a woman claiming to be his reincarnation, she takes a bath and the protagonist the girl and brother go out and have a good time... credits roll.
- If I Do Not Return: Parodied by Ozaki, giving this speech in a overly dramatic manner right before he goes to face the yakuza car killer woman.
- Improv: Some of the key scenes were improvised, as was a great deal of dialog.
- Journey to the Center of the Mind: The entire story after the arrival in Nagoya can be seen as this.
- Kick the Dog: Gangster Ozaki, in the "Yakuza attack dog" scene at the beginning of the movie. Well, not so much kick the dog, as pick it up by its leash and bash it to a bloody pulp on the nearest wall. Both figuratively and literally. The moment where Ozaki clearly goes from annoyingly unstable, to dangerously insane.
- Or Was It a Dream?: At one point, Minami has a strange dream where he is being licked by a man in underwear wearing a cow head. Then he wakes up via Catapult Nightmare and finds the leather pouch in his lap that he was given by the man in his dream.
- Rule of Symbolism: The film makes almost no sense at all without the realization that, not only is nearly everything symbolic, it uses symbols and tropes drawn from several entirely unrelated sources (mainly Japanese and Greek mythology, as well as psychological metaphors for the main character's coming to terms with his homosexuality).
- Schrödinger's Butterfly: When Minami wakes from his nightmare he finds the letter that was handed to him in the dream. Is this just another illusion? Or wasn't it a dream in the first place?
- Surreal Horror: Although more horrific for the protagonist than the audience.
- There Is Only One Bed: In the hotel room where Minami and the girl spend the night. Sexual tension ensured.
- Yakuza: Most of the main characters are Yakuza members. Even the plot starts as a typical Yakuza story, before diving into Surreal Horror territory