Directed by Takashi Miike, 2001, 84 minutes, starring Kenichi Endo, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Shôko Nakahara, Fujiko, and Jun Mutô.
As someone living in the West, it's oftentimes the case that I am privy to hearing people go absolutely ape over a particular director's work. You'll hear hipsters dropping lines about directors like Gus Van Sant or Wes Anderson; not just feigning interest in some of their work, but including the entirety of their filmography as reason for idol worship. While I may scoff at some of their opinions (1998's Psycho, anyone?), I don't outright reject them as much as I do those who feel necessary to drop the names of their favorite directors in the Asian sphere of film-making. The reason? Two words: Takashi Miike.
The difference between traditional American Hollywood filmmakers and their Japanese brethren is most notable in their respective outputs: American directors can take anywhere from a few months to years to complete a film project. The Japanese, though, they don't play like that. Takashi Miike, like many of his contemporaries, is game to produce two films a year (and that's if he's moving particularly slow). Which means his back catalogue is approximately the size of the dictionary. And within that massive filmography, there lies probably (and I don't feel out of line in the least saying so) the most diverse and daring spectrum of films ever made. He has literally hit nearly every genre in his quest to be Japan 's exportable "danger director." Which is why when I hear someone say, "I'm a total Miike fan," (and in this day and age, it's becoming more and more frequent) my only assumption is either that they've only seen half a dozen of his films and are simply overzealous about that crazy ending to Dead Or Alive, or else they're clinically schizophrenic.
Visitor Q (alternately referred to as Bizita Q) was released in 2001 (meaning I'm about five years too late for a chronologically-contexted review), a momentous year in Miike-dom that also saw the release of half a dozen other projects, among them his forray into morose musical hilarity (The Happiness Of The Katakuris) and his basic creation of a new genre in the form of yakuza-gore (Ichi The Killer). The one thing that all three of these films have in common is that, behind each, there is a tremendous cult following in the West. The one thing that distinguishes Visitor Q from its fellow 2001 alumni is that it, for all accounts and purposes, doesn't really deserve it. That's right, I out and out said it; just like Miike, I do what I want.
A beautiful young girl (played by the actress Fujiko, alternately credited as Reiko Matsuo) sits on a bed, and calmly seduces the man in front of her. She's coy and faux-shy, and more than anything, she's incredibly attractive. And then he asks her "Have you ever done it with your father?". Out of the gate and onto the field, Visitor Q drives its message (whatever that is) home with the ultimate (one would think) taboo: incest. The father (over-acted by Kenichi Endo) holds a video recorder in his hand. He follows her every movement, and likewise she does the same with a digital camera. As the viewer watches them, they watch each other. And so Miike's head trip begins.
On his way home from his elicit encounter, he is assaulted physically by a stranger. After an apparent trip to the doctor, he walks home, and again is assaulted by the same strange man. Inexplicably, the father brings the visitor into his home as a guest for dinner. It's a home in tatters, both figuratively and literally (as one can clearly see by the ripped paper doors and the dissheveled appearance of a home in a country reverred for its tidyness). Just how weathered is the Yamazaki family? Despite the ambivalence of the new visitor (played rather boringly by Kazushi Watanabe), he, along with the viewer, is about to find out exactly how deep one family can sink.
Though a backstory is never presented, it's evident that the family has eroded to a point where basic morals are no longer respected, and it's every man (or member) for his or her self. The father is a reporter who is on the brink of mental collapse; he is obsessed with filing a report on the state of bullying and pressure amongst young people, despite his colleagues' rejection of his credibility as a journalist. During a spontaneous street interview, he is assaulted by young punks and is even encroached upon with his own microphone. Despite the story's release immediately branding him the laughing stock of his media outlet, he continues to be obsessed with the idea, and turns to a close source: his own son. Takuya (Jun Mutô) is an angry young man, who swerves between brooding endlessly and beating his mother with any number of carefully collected and organized wooden tools. His mother (Shungiku Uchida) wears her battle scars with solemn indignity. She is a sad, sullen woman who obediantly follows her son's wishes, including that the upper floor of the family home be sectioned off for his personal use. Together they are a family of mixed levels of destruction. But individually they are each interesting components of a larger desecration: the nuclear family.
It doesn't take very long for Miike to begin his onslaught of visual and physical imagery. And likewise, the film is just as taboo- and disgust-ridden as its reviews insist. But the real question watching this film is "What is Miike saying?" And that, in and of itself, is a complete mystery. While I agree with many that Mr. Miike went out of his way to bring the brutal types of unrelenting theatrics that have filled his work thus far to the forefront in Visitor Q, it's a very difficult piece to comprehend. Like other Japanese "social films" (Suicide Circle and Battle Royale come to mind almost immediately), it asks a lot of very heavy questions, and answers only the most attention-grabbing (and often cheapest) of the bunch. Did I enjoy the film? Minimally. Did I understand what it was presenting to me? Yes, I did. Was I satisfied by its resolution? Not one bit.
I feel a lot of misgivings about saying that I outright disliked Visitor Q, because I didn't. There were moments of clarity in the film, and moments of near genius (the kitchen scene involving an absurdly lactating Shungiku Uchida "enjoying herself" while the visitor sits by with an umbrella was tongue-in-cheek perfection). But at the same time, there's a lot that just fell flat. Rape, murder, incest, necrophilia, intravenous drug use - Miike lightly taps each on the shoulder, but never bothers to follow up on what he's done. Is this a social commentary? Or is this just a dark, dark, dark comedy? I'd be happier with the latter, but I know that few visionaries (a cross Miike is almost forced to bear at this point) choose the simplicity of an ordinary narrative. It should be noted, though, that an interesting move in the part of the film presents the full-frontal nudity blurred for every character sans a certain corpse. I'm hoping this was Miike's idea, as I loved it in every way.
Takashi Miike's motivations aside, the film is at least well-acted for the most part. While I complete felt lost with whatever sort of nuances were behind Endo's portrayal of the father Kiyoshi, the rest of the cast works well together (even the merely competent Kazushi Watanabe, though his leather pants more than make up for his uniteresting performance). The real treasure of this film, though, is Shungiku Uchida (a celebrated manga artist with an expletive-titled memoir, who also had a role in 2001's B-zombie film Stacy). I know little of her Asian film credits, but in Visitor Q Unchida is every bit the sort of daring and provacative actress that most Westerners wish our leading ladies could be. 41 years old at the time of the film's production, she reveals herself both emotionally and physically in ways that actresses half her age and probably her weight would never dare. She's charming and subtle, and watching her suffer felt like watching anyone's mother suffer - it hurt. She did a marvellous job, and I felt proud for her. Casting director: you win this time.
It's extremely hard to enjoy any film where there is such a blatant laziness on the part of the writer (and yes, it's clear that some of the film is indeed ad lib on the part of the actors). Aside: when I was about twelve or thirteen, my grandmother and I went to see some random film at the local arthouse cinema, a small pastime she and I continue to share. The dialogue was minimal, and overall the film was godawful (as many of the more amateurish, student-made films tend to be). Afterwards, my grandmother made a sudden revalation: "If they aren't saying anything, more often than not there's probably not anything worth talking about." To which Visitor Q says: yes, ma'am. I've read various reports of 'the importance of the imagery over the dialogue amongst the characters' and how 'the film, even on mute, makes a social statement.' Yeah, well, that's great and all, but if only there was a context or a vocal reaction or explanation or, hell, just someone talking about something other than vague nondescrips of this terror falling down around them, then maybe an appreciation for the horror of this family, and its awful downward tumble, could be reaped.
It's also hard to take a film seriously that itself refuses to take itself seriously. It's not a comedy, but somehow there are moments of hilarity that had this reviewer literally laughing out loud (the mother as a knife-wielding protector of her family, for one, left me in stitches). From the standpoint of Miike purists, this film supposedly purports to contain a message about modern Japanese society. I didn't see that message as anything more than vague finger-pointing. Instead the viewer is simply left bombarded by offensive and brutal imagery - that, in itself, may give the film shock value, but it doesn't lend the work to repeated viewings unless one enjoys mainstream minimalist taboo cinema. And since I don't know of any other mainstream minimalist taboo films, I'm lead to believe that it could very well be a new niche genre that Miike might himself have created. Kudos to instituting that new door; let's hope that it isn't one he opens and revisits often.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Gross-outs: mostly cheap ones/10
The Visitor: nice pants, how's the chaffing?
Shungiku Uchida: a marvelous physical actress with an endearing on-screen presence; better known as this film's saving grace
Taboos broken: enough to assure us there won't be a sequel
Best Line EVER: "My wife threw this knife! Everyone, here it is!"
Films in a Similar Style: um, none? Ichi The Killer? Gozu, at a push?
*** Challenging at best, Visitor Q resides In its own niche, and that's hopefully where it will stay ***
Visitor Q Wallpaper
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Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2006
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.media-blasters.com/main.html – Link to the java-heavy Media Blasters site, umbrella company to the Tokyo Shock subsidiary that released the Region 1 version of Visitor Q watched for this review
http://www.midnighteye.com/features/bestof2001.shtml – Midnight Eye being all cute and listing it as both the Best and Worst Film of 2001. Also Visitor Q-era interview with Miike at http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/takashi_miike.shtml
http://www.greencine.com/article?action=view&articleID=134 - Interview with Miike giving an overview of his career
http://www.plume-noire.com/movies/cult/visitorq.html – A better review than mine
http://www.culturedose.net/review.php?rid=10004861 – Yeah, that's cool I guess
http://excite.contactmusic.com/new/film.nsf/reviews/visitorq – Short, to the point, and right on target