'Gozu': Weird Fellas

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2004

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.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company