It's clear from the opening scene of "Gozu" that there's something not quite right about the mobster Ozaki (Sho Aikawa). At a meeting with his fellow hoods, he leans in close across the restaurant booth to warn the boss (Renji Ishibashi) that the tiny white lap dog a woman is holding out on the sidewalk is actually a specially trained "yakuza attack dog." Calmly, deliberately, Ozaki walks outside, whereupon he proceeds to repeatedly slam the pooch into a bloody pulp against the pavement and the side of the building. Have I mentioned that this is a comedy?
I'd tell you some of the other things I laughed at in this dark, disturbing tale of perverted loyalty among thieves, but most of those descriptions would necessitate going to such great lengths to avoid using words inappropriate to a family newspaper that I'd run out of space. Suffice it to say this: "Gozu," which centers on the efforts of yakuza underling Minami (Hideki Sone) to dispose of his former mentor Ozaki in a remote trash dump on boss's orders -- and then to retrieve Ozaki's body after the unconscious would-be victim disappears from the back seat of Minami's convertible Mustang -- is a profane, hallucinatory cross between "After Hours" and the heroic quests of ancient Greek mythology. In his contemporary obstacle course, Minami undergoes a series of ever more surreal encounters with such weirdos as a forgetful transvestite waiter and his moronic hick customers, a profusely lactating middle-aged innkeeper, an underwear-clad man with the head of a cow (although this may, in fact, be a dream), a blond American grocer speaking broken Japanese and a mobster who reluctantly agrees to help Minami in his search if he can answer a sphinx-like riddle.
Directed by Takashi Miike (who made the wonderfully creepy horror film "Audition") from a script by Sakichi Sato, "Gozu" operates on a kind of nightmare logic. Starting gradually before it revs up to full-bore strangeness, yet grounded at every step of the journey by Sone's believable performance as the increasingly bemused Everyman hero, "Gozu" makes little sense on paper. As a film, however, it somehow feels richly, hilariously real, even -- at its most bizarre -- familiar.
GOZU (Unrated, 129 minutes) --Contains obscenity, violence and lots of surreal sexual content. In Japanese with English subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.