As a fan of classic horror films, I am always interested in seeking out modern horror films to watch in the hopes that they will live up to their contemporaries. As such, I watched Gozu as part of Film4’s Fright-fest night, hoping it would live up to these expectations.
Gozu centers around a Japanese Yakuza gang member called Minami who has been tasked to dispose of his fellow gang member and friend Ozaki. The Boss orders Ozaki’s death after they witness him brutally execute a dog that he believes is trained to attack Yakuza members. As they head to the disposal site, however, Minami prematurely kills Ozaki. He heads into a cafe to try and contact his boss to explain the situation. When he re-emerges, however, Ozaki has gone.
Gozu is a well shot film with brilliant cinematography. There are several scenes where the characters are talking in extreme long shot in a static angle, which creates a very uncomfortable atmosphere within the film. It almost becomes voyeuristic. The acting too is good, with many convincing and creepy performances throughout.
…outweighed by the nightmarish elements…
Aside from this, however, Gozu is quite difficult to watch, not only due to it’s surreal nature, but also for some of its scenes which contain disturbing imagery, such as an Innkeeper squeezing milk out of her breast into milk bottles and the final scene. It does have elements of black comedy within the scene, yet this is completely outweighed by the nightmarish elements surrounding it. It has to be seen to be believed. I wonder, though, whether most audience members will even make it to the ending?
Gozu is definitely a film for a niche market. Fans of David Lynch, for example, will have a better time watching this film than others, yet I myself a Lynch fan had trouble getting into this film. The problem does not lie in its surrealist nature; one can watch this film and get a sense of what the director, Takashi Miike, is trying to convey with his use of symbolism and imagery. The pacing is the real issue with the film.
…I feel that the story could have been depicted in 90 minutes…
The film drags, especially around the second act, wherein Minami tries to find Ozaki, encountering many strange characters such as an Innkeeper and her brother, and a man called Nose, whose half of his face is affected by lack of pigmentation. Whilst these characters are symbolic and create more meaning to the film’s themes, I felt that the execution was off. Gozu does not pick up again until the final act, but by then an hour has elapsed. The film’s runtime is 130 minutes. I feel that the story could have been depicted in 90 minutes.
Overall, Gozu is an interesting and unique take on the Japanese Yakuza genre with great cinematography and acting, yet suffers with pacing issues and becomes tedious viewing. I would recommend watching some other surrealist films first, such as Eraserhead, or better yet checking out Takashi Miike’s other films before watching this one.