REVIEW: DVD Release: Visitor Q

Film: Visitor Q
Release date: 24th May 2004
Certificate: 18
Running time: 86 mins
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Ken'ichi Endô, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Horror/Thriller
Studio: Palisades Tartan
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

Known throughout the world as one of the most controversial and prolific Japanese directors working today, Takeshi Miike has transcended the formulaic trappings of his earlier work to continually strive to subvert the conventions of cinematic narrative, while challenging what is deemed acceptable to be shown on screen. The very mention of Visitor Q is often met with a mixture of repulsion and curiosity, directly challenging the viewer to accept the warped logic, graphic violence and absurdist humour as it presents itself.

The film centres on a news reporter named Kiyoshi Yamazaki (Kenichi Endo) and his family as they try to make sense of their exaggeratedly dysfunctional household. Opening with a home-made video of father-daughter incestuous prostitution, the main theme of the film is established with the inter-title: “Have you ever f**ked your dad?”

The absolute destruction and disintegration of the stereotypical family unit is explored at length throughout the film. The mother, Keiko (Shungiku Echida), also works as a prostitute to fund her escalating heroin addiction. The son, Takuya (Jin Mutô), is severely bullied, channelling his aggression towards his mother, whom he mercilessly beats with a riding crop at every opportunity. A pseudo-documentary style is adopted, mirroring Kiyoshi’s former profession while allowing the viewer a candid, fly-on-the-wall look at this failing family.

The dysfunction is interrupted by the arrival of the titular Visitor (Kazushi Watanabe), an enigmatic stranger who announces his visitation by striking Kiyoshi over the head with a rock, shocking him, and the audience, into action. He then proceeds to accompany him home and inexplicably integrate himself into their family.

The narrative continues as Kiyoshi sets out to make a documentary about violence in Japanese youth, using his son’s humiliation as a subject. The Visitor records Kiyoshi recording his son as the violence unfolds around them, culminating in an act so unspeakable, it really has to be seen to be believed. The fallout of Kiyoshi’s breakdown, helped in no small part to the enigmatic Visitor’s role as a guardian angel of sorts, prompts the family to re-evaluate their domestic lives and assert their conventional roles in the most unconventional of ways…

Written by Miike’s sometime collaborator Itaru Era, the script is funny and smart. The combination of outright absurdity and comedy, coupled with the (sometimes overly) enthusiastic delivery of Endo, creates a surreal contrast to the subdued, dignified performance of Echida, as the matriarch struggling to hold everything together as her family self-destructs around her. Mutô, as Takuya, the bratty, obnoxious school boy also delivers a strong performance, especially as he is broken down and humiliated by his class-mates, expressing adolescent rebellion and inner-turmoil to great effect. It is easy to pity him, but easier to be appalled by his outbursts of anger. The key performance, however, comes from Watanabe’s Visitor. Not unlike Ichi The Killer’s Kakihara in screen presence and unhinged cool, Watanabe steals the show. With subtle, knowing glances and inappropriate smiles as Kiyoshi films the chaos around him, he manipulates the action and brilliantly commands the attention of both the on-screen family and the audience themselves.

Shot on an obviously low budget, using limited lighting (although to great effect, especially in the firework attack) and digital video, Visitor Q uses the idea of a documentary film-within-a-film to ensure that the production doesn’t feel cheap, while offering an overt sense of gritty realism to the satire. The mise-en-scene sets up the family home (where the majority of action takes place) as conventional and average. As the action unfolds, however, the set literally begins to fall apart, in an extremely effective (albeit obvious) technique used by Miike to draw parallels with the family’s disintegration.

It goes without saying that the film is disturbing, it is literally impossible not to baulk at certain scenes, but Miike uses this to implore the audience to sit up and take notice of his problems with Japanese culture. The absurdity lies in the use of sound. A comedic “pop” as Kiyoshi is detached from a defiled corpse, and a “whoosh” as he flies into action to defend his son signal the two most shocking scenes, goading the audience into a futile attempt to remain straight-faced. It is this union of comedy and extremely disturbing scenes that makes the film unique, and literally unlike anything you have ever seen before.

The narrative may seem confusing at first, but once conventional logic is abandoned, the message becomes clearer. It is a film that demands at least two viewings. The first to be disgusted, disturbed and amazed by the sheer audacity of what is being shown, and the second to establish the thinking behind the violence without the extra baggage of the unexpected.

Miike masterfully utilises the absurd to subvert the idea of family as the ultimate goal for society. A true original, Visitor Q is disgustingly brilliant, proving that scant regard for censorship and a no-holds-barred attitude to filmmaking can really affect an audience. Many will be put off by the film’s reputation as an obscene excuse for testing the boundaries of what can be shown on film, but beyond false preconceptions lays a challenging film with real heart and a strong message. RB

No comments:

Post a Comment