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MOVIE REVIEWS

Long-winded 'Happiness'

October 18, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS

Takashi Miike's "The Happiness of the Katakuris" is in the Japanese tradition of pitch-dark absurdist comedy. It combines a spoof of the cliches of the Hollywood musical with a plot that faintly echoes that of the French classic "The Red Inn" (1951) but with the difference that the few guests of this film's inn tend to wind up dead inadvertently rather than intentionally.

"Happiness," however, having skewered every aspect of family life imaginable, seems to go sentimental in the final reel, extolling family solidarity and the capacity of mankind to endure. Miike may actually be spoofing these vaunted sentiments, but it's hard to say for sure, because he gives the impression of constantly shifting positions. Not helping matters is that the film is long-winded and ultimately uninvolving.

Having lost his longtime department-store job, Masao Katakuri (Kenji Sawada) has somehow managed to finance the construction of a comfortable guest cottage by the side of a dirt road in a forest with the idea that he and his family, which includes his elderly father (Tetsuro Tamba, veteran samurai and yakuza star), will eventually cash in big with the planned construction of a highway nearby. Their ill-fated guests include a guy who persuades Katakuri's gullible daughter to believe that he's the half-Japanese nephew of Queen Elizabeth, and a sumo wrestler with his decidedly underage inamorata. None of this is nearly as hilarious as surely it was meant to be.

*

Through Thursday, exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379. In Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. Unrated. Some violence, adult situations.

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