There is hardly a character who appears in the movie who is not wonderfully bizarre. Over the course of the film, the director thus presents the moviegoer with a man with a pigment disorder that renders half of his face white, a gang of killers who keep the tattooed skins of murdered Yakuza on hangers in a meat locker, an American woman who reads her lines from cue cards visibly posted on the walls of her husband's liquor store, an overweight, bald transvestite waiter who wears a black brassiere under his transparent blouse, a Yakuza boss with a sexual fetish for inserting kitchen ladles into his rectum, a cow headed demon who wears tighty whities, and a lactating innkeeper who implores her guests to drink her milk and who mercilessly uses a fly swatter to beat her dimwitted brother, who is supposedly able to communicate with spirits.
Miike reinforces the sense of unreality he stirs up in Gozu with these strange characters by repeatedly reminding the viewer that he is watching a film. In the opening scene, for instance, Ozaki warns his boss that everything he will subsequently say, and the whole of the film by implication, is nothing but a joke. Similarly, both the American woman's reading of her lines from cue cards and the obviously applied face paint on the man with the pigment disorder force the viewer to remember that he is looking at a work of art and not through a window into some other real place. Even the events of the film's narrative fail to make complete sense. They often follow one another more with the logic of a dream than that of waking reality.
By adding one weird element after another to his truly peculiar film, Miike creates a sense of utter strangeness. This approach, regrettably, is sure to be attacked by many critics, namely, those who demand that film preach to the viewer and deride any movie that allows a person simply to relish an emotional appreciation of the work itself. Those critics, however, apparently have very little understanding of art, which is surely whatever is able arouse in a person just such an appreciation. Happily, Miike does possess a sense of what art truly is and permits the viewer to enjoy the beauty of strange things as strange things, without having to ingest some irrelevant didactic content.
In fact, although the director does provide in Gozu a number of interesting reflections on gender identities, even these only enhance the absurdity of the film by reminding the viewer of the ridiculousness of conventional gender constructs and of the emptiness of the importance that so many people place on them. Instead of Gozu's strangeness serving to emphasize some social criticism, the inclusion of references to such absurd aspects of society serves to heighten the viewer's relishing of the bizarre, the enjoyment of which is integral to any real aesthetic appreciation of the film.
Whether he would articulate this or not, Miike appears to be aware that human beings have specific objects that elicit sexual responses and that gender is only one such possible object, even though, in most societies today, personal identities are closely bound up with culturally constructed sexual identities. While a person thus identifies him or herself as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, there is little reason to think that such categories are anything more than social constructs. Gender may not even be the most important factor for a given person in selecting a sexual partner. Such things as hair color, ethnicity, religion, personality, wealth, and so on may well be of equal or greater relevance. The members of a given society will inevitably, however, be influenced by the ideas present in their society. A person raised in an industrialized nation today cannot help but be influenced by the constructs of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, nor can that person avoid being influenced by society's standards of beauty, which are closely connected with these constructs. When a person's sexual proclivities do vary from society's expectations, that person often feels conflicted about his or her sexuality.
In Gozu, Miike explores just this sort of internal conflict. Minami and Ozaki have a close relationship, and there is an unacknowledged sexual tension between them, which, over time, becomes more and more apparent as it increasingly affects their actions. This particular thread is given considerable emphasis in the movie beginning with a scene in which Minami, after having searched for Ozaki's corpse for some time, has a dream in which a cow headed spirit appears to him, licks him with its enormous, wet tongue, and gives him a message that informs him that he will be able to find Ozaki in a certain junkyard. The following day, Minami goes there and searches for his supposedly dead associate, but is unable to locate him. When he returns to his old Ford Mustang , however, he discovers a woman sitting in it who claims to be, and who eventually manages to convince him she is, Ozaki. The sexual tension between the two of them quickly increases, but, while the social constraints that perhaps prevented Minami from realizing his attraction to Ozaki have changed, his awareness that somehow the woman is still a man makes him cautious. Nevertheless, when he sees other men making advances towards the woman, and her apparent willingness to accept them as sexual partners, Minami is troubled enough to commit acts of violence to prevent her from having sexual relations with those other men.
The bizarre sequence of events in which this sexual tension existing between Minami and Ozaki is played out reinforces the viewer's awareness of the absurdity of the constraints governing the characters' actions. Thus, in a scene depicting their relationship prior to the central events of the film, Minami shows Ozaki his surgically reconstructed penis and is given by the older man a pair of crotchless panties with the magical power to lure women if worn by a woman while Minami is having sexual intercourse with her. Once Ozaki has reappeared as a woman, and the tension between the two has become overt, they have sexual intercourse while the female Ozaki is wearing the crotchless panties previously given to Minami. This liaison has, I might add, what are, perhaps, the strangest and most disturbing consequences of any such act ever to have been filmed. The viewer is almost certain to be left stunned by the vision with which the director presents him at this point.
All these peculiar events and actions, however, being as odd and nauseating as they often are, greatly increase Gozu's sense of absurdity, deepening it psychologically and widening its scope beyond the movie's characters. Having been shown that Minami's attraction is to Ozaki specifically, as a person, whether Ozaki is a man or a woman, the viewer is made aware that, just as some given feature, such as hair color, for example, may be irrelevant for one person in determining whether someone else is a suitable sexual partner, gender, and even the whole of the body, are irrelevant for Minami. Being a specific person is the factor that matters. The moviegoer who is cognizant of this is, when he is shown the wildly peculiar development of the heroes' relationship, allowed to savor the weirdness of the artificial boundaries societies create, which so distort human inclinations.
Miike has created a true masterpiece in Gozu. It is a fascinating, powerful, and deliciously peculiar film.
Review by Keith Allen
Allen. All rights reserved.