Monday, 8 August 2011

Visitor Q (2001)


Directed by Takashi Miike

When prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike was invited to contribute to the Love Cinema series, few could have predicted the outcome would be the highly controversial Visitor Q. Love Cinema was a series of six direct to rental films from independent filmmakers, which were all shot on digital video for ultra low budgets. Of the six films, five vanished without trace into the abyss of celluloid history, but the sheer outrageousness of Visitor Q, and the increasing cult reputation of its director, ensured a limited theatrical run beyond the confines of the series for which it was intended. Miike was no stranger to controversy at this point in time. His cinema marked by excessive violence, bizarre sexual perversity, and a refreshingly rebellious attitude toward past traditions. Miike embodied a punk ethic, and a particular gift for offensive grotesquery, the like of which had rarely been distributed in the west. In many ways Visitor Q is Miike’s ultimate work of transgression, a vile cocktail featuring one abhorrent event after another. The challenge to social taboo is nothing new, even if Miike piles it on with typical exaggerated relish. The problem with Visitor Q lies in the fact that for much of its brief running time it is uproariously funny.

The intelligence behind the narrative was Itaru Era, who even by the standards of Japanese cinema, excelled himself with a screenplay that is little more than a catalogue of disgusting depravity. But these are very gifted filmmakers and Visitor Q is also punctuated with odd moments of emotional beauty. The film explores, in no uncertain terms, the total fragmentation of the world’s most dysfunctional family. The father (Ken’ichi Endo ) is a television reporter desperate to erase the memory of his humiliation at the hands of a gang of thugs he was filming. The anal penetration he suffers sets up a web of deviant sexuality, which he uses to erase his shame. This involves fucking his prostitute daughter (and filming it of course), filming his son being tormented and bullied for his new documentary, which he is convinced will be a huge ratings winner, committing rape, murder, and eventually necrophilia. The mother (Shungiku Uchida) meanwhile must deal with the bullying of her son (Jun Muto ), who takes his frustrations out on her with a cane. She copes by injecting herself with heroin, which she obtains by selling her body in the city. These absurd events are presented as bland and everyday. The father barely looking up from his meal as his son thrashes his wife to a pulp. This is total normality, and the flat digital video image reinforces the naturalism of the events.

Things however begin to subtly change with the arrival of an enigmatic and mysterious stranger (Kazushi Watanabe), a goateed visitor who lives with the family and seems utterly oblivious to the odd family dynamic. The key scene in the film sees the visitor tweaking and stroking the erect nipples of the mother, who begins to squirt her lactating milk all around the house. The image of lactating breasts is one which would resurface in the surreal yakuza flick Gozu (2003). The milking of the mother reignites both her maternal instincts and her sexuality. The final scene of the film sees father and son each suckling on a nipple, and the runaway daughter swimming in the life giving fluid. The scene has a peculiar power and beauty to it. There are moments of poetical resonance in Visitor Q, and the manner in which the family unite at the breasts of the matriarch wipes aside the pressures and concerns that have led them to such extreme behaviour. The peer pressure and bullying of the son for example ends when mum and dad hack his tormentors to pieces. The father’s inner turmoil is solved by the rape and murder of his colleague. He and his wife finally uniting in their attempts to remove his penis from the rigor mortis riddled corpse. They also work together with an alarming carefree abandon at the task of cutting the body up into disposable pieces.

As alluded too earlier, what makes much of this problematic, is that it is very funny. The film is shot through with a pitch black vein of absurdist and surreal humour. Many of the more monstrous events in the film are intended to be offensive. In this Era and Miike try perhaps a little too hard. At times an earnestness to offend ends up reducing the power of the film considerably. This isn’t alleviated at all by the madcap performance of Ken’ichi Endo. But it is Shungiku Uchida who steals the show as the mother. Much of the films realism comes from her expressions of pain and shame when under the enquiring gaze of the visitor. In the end it is her dignity and strength that shines through, the visitor merely an instrument of revelation. The digital palette is particularly monotonous and unexciting, and at times the lack of stylisation robs the film of a sense of poetry. The poetic might not be appropriate for a naturalistic experiment like this, but then the films position to realism is perhaps the blackest joke of all.


Rich Flannagan said...

Yes, beneath the outrageous scenes, there is a palpable, very Japanese , feeling of shame and disgrace. I think that if the viewer can see beyond the necrophillia, etc, Visitor Q is one of Miike's deepest works. Not an easy watch, perhaps, but worth putting in the effort.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Thanks for stopping by Rich, your input is always appreciated. The key thing for me is that there is a redemption of sort for the family. A sense of recuperation and unity. Unfortunately for wider society it comes through rape and murder...and dare I forget, copious amounts of breast milk.

Rich Flannagan said...

Well, you can't make an omelette...


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