Film bits and bobs
Review first published by Movie Gazette
In 1968, Pier Paolo Pasolini made Teorema (or Theorem), in which, by depicting a middle-class family torn apart by the arrival of a mysterious stranger who seduces each of its members, the Marxist director launched an effectively shocking onslaught on the traditional values of the bourgeoisie. Teorema was very much a film of its times, and a later American attempt at a remake, Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), proved anodyne by comparison. With Visitor Q, however, Miike Takashi has not only successfully transplanted Pasolini’s concept to post-millennial Japan, but also broken enough social and cultural taboos to make the jaws of even the most jaded modern viewers drop in scandalised disbelief – if, of course, they can stop grinning. Visitor Q features scenes of incest, sodomy, heroin use, intrafamilial violence, prostitution, murder, necrophilia, and, for want of a better phrase, graphic lactation – and all that in a family comedy.
Like The Happiness of the Katakuris (which Miike made in the same year), Visitor Q is a surreal dramatisation of the social problems which beset the traditional Japanese family. Kiyoshi (Endo Kenochi) is an emasculated, out-of-work TV reporter who hopes to get his job back and reconnect with his children by using them as the subjects of a reality filmpiece on today’s teenagers. Miki (Fujiko), Kiyoshi’s daughter, has run away from home and turns tricks to all comers – even Kiyoshi himself. Takuya (Muto Jun), Kiyoshi’s son, is constantly bullied, and takes out his aggression on his mother Keiko (Uchida Shungiko) with a collection of canes. Keiko shoots heroin to relieve the pain, and sells her body to support her habit. The family is so profoundly dysfunctional that a Pasolini-style visitor could not possibly tear them further apart – so instead the cool stranger who comes to stay with them (Watanabe Kazushi) knocks some sense into Kiyoshi and Miki, gets Keiko’s maternal juices flowing again, and proves the old adage that the family which slays together, stays together.
Commissioned by CineRockets to be the sixth and final instalment in a series of ‘Love Cinema’ films devoted to the theme of ‘pure love’, Visitor Q stretches the concept to limits that are extreme even for Miike, ending with possibly the most astonishingly bizarre image of familial bliss of all time. Yet no matter how outlandish their actions or circumstances, the characters keep insisting on the ordinariness of their experience. “I’m not special or pathetic – I’m just a normal woman” says Keiko as she covers the kitchen floor in milk squeezed from her breasts. “This is how a father really feels” exclaims Kiyoshi, as he humps the corpse of a woman he has just strangled. “Aren’t they just like us?” go the song lyrics over the closing credits. And indeed, beneath all Miike’s over-the-top absurdities lurk real feelings (inadequacy, alienation, repressed sexuality) that simmer away in most ‘normal’ families. All Miike has done is grossly exaggerate – and this is what gives the film its darkly satirical edge.
Shot on Digital Video for a minuscule US$70,000, the visual quality of the film is not high. Miike turns this to his advantage, however, by continually confusing his own film with the amateur footage shot by Kiyoshi (as though Visitor Q is itself a raw investigation into reality) – and Miike’s bold editing and twisted imagination more than make up for the obvious budgetary constraints.