Thursday, March 09, 2006

Visitor Q

Takashi Miike is a person who forces everyone to reassess their lives and wonder just how much time they've wasted. Why is this? It's because the man has directed 67 films since 1991, an average of 4.5 films a year. This is unheard of, no one since Fassbinder has produced at this level, and as far as I know, Miike doesn't have the coke habit backing him up. This man is doing so much, it makes the rest of look like slackers.

Most likely because of his ridiculous speed, a lot of his films end up feeling like first drafts. Gozu is a film that could likely have been a masterpiece if he'd spent some more time tinkering and tightening, but I don't think Miike's interested in doing that. Some directors seek perfection, while others are content to just make movies and let them out into their world, the sanctity of their oevure be damned.

Having seen most of Miike's high profile work (Audition, Ichi, Gozu), I ventured into the less charted realm of Visitor Q, a movie that while not his best film, is in many ways his most coherent and comprehensible. The film takes place in an odd world, but the nature of that world remains stable, and though the narrative is dreamlike, it never drifts off into the ambiguous reality bending that has ended the other Miike films I've seen.

That said, Visitor Q is probably the most difficult of Miike's films to take because of its mundane mise en scene and verite shooting style. At its most basic level, the film is about the way a mysterious visitor, "Q," brings a broken family together. That sounds like a pretty heartwarming tale, and in some ways, the film is a satisfying emotional story of familial togetherness, but it is a journey filled with some of the most bizarre, disturbing images you're going to encounter in any film.

The opening title of the film introduces to a sexual encounter between a daughter and her father. It's a sequence that's disturbing because it's played very low key. There's no heightened emotion or moral questioning, it's just the daughter seducing her father by playing on the innate attraction of a male for a female. The scene introduces the video motif, in which the father always seems to videotape events he didn't mean to, creating embarressing consequences.

From here, the film has a title asking the question "Have you ever been hit on the head," and proceeds to show us a little viginette in which the man we just saw is inexplicably hit on the head by a random guy. Another intertitle poses the question "Have you ever hit your mother," and shows us a viginette with an ultrabratty kid whipping his mother.

At this point, I thought the film would be a series of darkly comic viginettes, all responding to these questions. However, there aren't any more questions, and from here the film begins to examine the relationships within this family. For some reason, the father invites the guy who hit him to live at the house, and from there, we experience the odd life of this family.

With a Miike film, there's always the question of the line between shock and art. There's a lot of boundary pushing material here, and you can either choose to embrace the film's world or get hung up on these individual things. By the time the man decides to have sex with a corpse and gets stuck inside, you're either with the film or you're not. Things might not make sense in terms of our world, but the whole film takes place in a heightened reality.

The way I see it, most of the shocking behaviors are just amplified versions of common behavior. So, the spoiled son who orders his mother around is a common thing, but here it's made physical, by having him literally whip her rather than just verbally castigate her. It's a different language that Miike is using to express the character's emotions. The wife's heroin habit is just a heightened version of the prescription drugs that many woman do use to help them get through the day.

One of the central motifs of the film is the father's constant taping of events. He views everything around him as potential fodder for sensationalist news reports, to the point that when an attempt to interview some youth goes awry, and he is sodomized with a microphone, he decides to run the clip, and embarresses himself in front of the nation. He wants people to play characters in his drama, allowing his son to be urinated upon because it will make for good footage. When his female reporter sidekick won't go along with his plan, he kills her, getting out the rage he felt when he got rejected by his daughter. If you read the fact that he came too early when having sex with his daughter as a deficiency of love, his outburst against the reporter is the father letting go of his rage at his failures as a parent.

The visitor means different things to each character. For the father, he's a partner, manning the camera so that he can begin to experience real life more. For the wife, he is a more willing sexual partner, opening her up to new possible pleasure. Again, Miike draws on the lactation motif, and those scenes are pretty graphic. What the visitor does is open up the wife to her own sexual pleasure, rather than use as an object during his prostitution encounters, and as a result, she is able to reconnect with her husband.

At the end of the film, the son says that the visitor came to destroy their family. This is accurate, what the visitor does is force every member of the family to confront their own flaws, and overcome them. So, the wife reclaims her agency, and will no longer be a victim of her son's aggression. For the son, the visitor shows him his own brattiness, and he realizes that he has to grow up. And when he hits the daughter, he makes her realize the danger of being a prostitute, prompting her to return home.

The reconciliation of the family is quite evident in the film's final image, both children at their mother's breast. So, the family has been destroyed and now reconnected. The mother has her children again, and husband and wife bond to defend their son from the bullies. It's a crucial moment when the father stops worrying about what's on the videotape and instead chooses to stand in defense of his son, cutting into the bully's head. It's a simple emotion, but portrayed through this bizarre, extreme act of violence. That's how the whole film works, it plays emotions out through these bizarre images and extreme acts of violence.

For example, the husband is someone who engages with prostitutes, who feign sexual attraction for him, sexual attraction that is actually an act. So, when he has sex with the dead body of the young reporter, he thinks that she's getting wet for him, and he does the wonderful speech about the mysteries of life. However, he soon finds out that what he thought was attraction is in fact, quite literally, shit. The young girls are feeding him this shit to trap him and ensure that they make money. His wife acts to literally detach him from these young girls and bring her back to him, when they cut up the body together.

It's a heightened reality where this sort of thing is possible. You're not meant to ask something like why don't the police come after the kids, that's not the point, it's a film that exists almost entirely on a metaphorical level, to understand it, you have to move past the extreme nature of the images and find the emotion underneath. It's not a perfect film, but it's a rich, experimental work that is both disturbing, and strangely familiar underneath it all. A lot of films, even some of Miike's own, can get lost in weird images and lose sight on narrative and emotion, this film manages to use the images to serve the narrative and ensure that the audience feels what the characters are going through, even if what that is is something very strange.


Anonymous said...

Extremely well put, mate.

Anonymous said...

Damn dude!... extremely accurate!... Ive been trying all night to find some sense to this really good movie, cuz i like it so much!... and now, thans to u, I've found it!... thnx a lot!...