Unclassifiable cult figure Takashi Miike's films invariably have their share of weirdness and perversity, but "Gozu" arguably outweirds all previous efforts in the Japanese director's eclectic canon. This blackly comic yakuza horror movie boasts bizarre violence and perhaps the most amazing freak birth scene since David Cronenberg.

Minami - Hideki Sone Ozaki - Sho Aikawa Female Ozaki - Kimika Yoshino Nose - Shohei Hino Innkeeper - Keiko Tomita Innkeeper's Brother - Harumi Sone Boss - Ryo Ishibashi

Unclassifiable cult figure Takashi Miike’s films invariably have their share of weirdness and perversity, but “Gozu” arguably outweirds all previous efforts in the prolific Japanese director’s eclectic canon. An insane tale of a young gangster hurled into a mind-bending odyssey of crazed encounters after being ordered to ice the senior partner who once saved his life, this blackly comic yakuza horror movie boasts sexual aberrations, bizarre violence, gallons of bodily fluids onscreen and perhaps the most amazing freak birth scene since vintage David Cronenberg. Late-night fest dates and specialty video release seem certain.

Once-valued yakuza soldier Ozaki (Sho Aikawa) has been losing his mind, a fact confirmed for his cronies when he brutally pulps a harmless Chihuahua, convinced it’s a rival band’s trained attack dog. Ozaki’s boss (Ryo Ishibashi) orders Minami (Hideki Sone) to eliminate the loose cannon and dispose of him at the Nagoya yakuza dump.

But as Minami agonizes over killing the man he regards as a brother, an accident appears to do the job for him. Things get complicated when the body disappears, and the boss orders Minami to track down Ozaki to ensure that he’s dead.

Navigating unfamiliar territory, Minami looks for clues with the help of a roadside eccentric with a half-painted face (Shohei Hino). He goes first to a cafe with a cross-dressing waiter, then to a mysterious inn run by middle-aged siblings (Keiko Tomita and producer Harumi Sone), one of whom bottles her unstoppable flow of breast milk.

Learning that Ozaki also stayed there the previous night, Minami checks in again but instead is visited during his sleep by Gozu, a figure with the head of a cow and the body of a man. Awaking in the morning, he finds a note from Ozaki saying to meet him at the dump; but when Minami arrives, he finds a strange and sexy young woman (Kimika Yoshino), who insists she’s really his “brother.”

What any of this means is something probably only Miike can explain. But despite being overlong and lumbered with some clunky broad humor, the sharply lensed film remains compelling, driven by the curiosity of seeing what the director will throw in next.

The most entertaining stretch follows the appearance of the female Ozaki, with events taking a psychosexual turn as she engages Minami in some scary locked coitus then gives birth — through pink-lace Givenchy crotchless knickers, no less — to her full-grown male counterpart. If that scene isn’t enough to satisfy peculiar palates, the electrocution of a mobster via a strategically implanted soup ladle should do it.

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Directors Fortnight / Japan

Production: A Klock Work Co./Rakuei-sha production. Produced by Harumi Sone, Kana Koido. Directed by Takashi Miike. Screenplay, Sakichi Soto.

Crew: Camera (color), Kazunari Tanaka; editor, Yasushi Shimamura; music, Koji Endo; production designer, Akira Ishige; sound (DTS Stereo), Hitoshi Tsurumaki. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 17, 2003. Running time: 130 MIN.

With: Minami - Hideki Sone Ozaki - Sho Aikawa Female Ozaki - Kimika Yoshino Nose - Shohei Hino Innkeeper - Keiko Tomita Innkeeper's Brother - Harumi Sone Boss - Ryo Ishibashi

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