VISITOR Q

Directed by Takashi Miike

Written by Haru Ena

With Kenichi Endo, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Shoko Nakahara and Fujiho

Distributed by Media Blasters

***



I hated VISITOR Q, a loose remake of Pier Paolo Pasolini's TEOREMA,  the first time I saw it. My reaction was partially a product of the godawful video projection system at the mall multiplex where I saw it during the Vancouver Film Festival last fall. (An incongruous setting, I know.) But I know I'm not the only one to react this way and then change my mind on a second viewing. This kind of extreme reaction to Miike's films isn't unusual. When Tony Rayns described VISITOR Q as the most offensive of the films Miike last year, he wasn't kidding. There's something here to offend both conservatives (such as the New Zealand censor  that banned it) and liberals (dollops of violence against women.) To balance it, there's also an underlying warmth and concern for the character's happiness.

While AUDITION showed that Miike can create a beautiful film if he wants to, VISITOR Q looks deliberately cruddy. Shot  in a week for $70,000 and  shown on video, it's never been transferred to film. A lengthy catalogue of violations - bullying, rape, drug addiction, necrophilia, domestic violence - it chronicles one family's struggle to use them as a means of self-actualization. Dad (Endo) is haplessly making a documentary on the sad state of Japan: at one point, his subjects use the microphone as a dildo and shove it up his ass. (It's a repeated image in Miike's work: the director himself does it with a karaoke microphone in his recent AGITATOR.) The son (Nakahara) beats up Mom (Shungiku), giving her a permanent limp and scars on her back. She  turns to heroin to dull the pain. Then a silent stranger (Watanabe),  who likes hitting people over the head with rocks shows up,  and everything slowly changes for the better.

In AUDITION, Miike seemed completely in control of his tone and narrative, modulating carefully from naturalism to hallucinatory surrealism to hall-of-nightmares. On the other hand, I've been disappointed by the uneven quality of ICHI THE KILLER and DEAD OR ALIVE. Both films alternate between eye-popping set pieces and long, dull stretches.  DEAD OR ALIVE peaks in its opening 10 minutes, while ICHI THE KILLER wears out its welcome at 130. It took me a while to realize this, but VISITOR Q is a better piece of storytelling than either film. While it's hardly as challenging as AUDITION, it's far more consistent than ICHI THE KILLER and DEAD OR ALIVE, integrating  loose handheld camerawork into a tight, slow-building narrative framework.

Even at their most grotesque, Miike's films aren't devoid of morality or "socially redeeming value." After DEAD OR ALIVE opens with a brain-bursting montage of cheap thrills that makes TRAINSPOTTING or the Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" video look like SHREK, it goes on to explore Sino-Japanese relations. Meathook/boiling oil torture side aside (a difficult task), ICHI THE KILLER delves into a masochist's quest for sexual happiness. VISITOR Q shows a family slowly coming to terms with its perversity: Mom discovers a new source of pleasure, while eventually bonding with her husband.  In its own way, it's a loving satire of the diversity of family life. Not to mention finding a constructive use for smack.