21 December 2008

Visitor Q

If you believe that you know what a dysfunctional family means and you think it's something banal that probably happens to approximately 90 percent of families on earth, think again. If you think that dysfunctional family members don't engage in conversations and prefer to avoid contact or communication, then think again. Visitor Q is a Japanese film that will turn that stereotypical image of a dysfunctional family upside down.

You'll probably never think that there exists any family any weirder than that in this film. Kiyoshi Yamazaki, the 'salariman' patriarch, obsessed with his job as a TV presenter researching on youngsters' trends, chooses to exploit his own children for his own personal success and recognition. His elder daughter doesn't care much about her study but chooses to focus on her well-paid career as a hooker, while his son is an object of bully at school. The shock begins when the father interviews his own daughter and ends up having sex with her in the process. He also intends to conduct a picture-perfect scoop on how his son is bullied, without showing interest in his son's well-being. Keiko the mother doesn't fare any better. She's in turn being bullied and beaten by her oppressed son. She spends her free time prostituting herself to earn some money for heroine. During dinnertime, she just limps about quietly trying to please everyone.

It goes without saying that the dysfunctional family in Visitor Q puts Homer's family in The Simpsons to shame. The Yamazaki are by far in a league of their own, full of extreme oddities and crazy thoughts. Their weirdness just reflects the oppressive conditions of contemporary Japanese society, in which people need to compete and be successful at work. Social norms are intense as these Yamazaki family members appear very normal in public places. By contrast, in such private spaces as a bedroom, a brothel, or a car, they let loose their own 'deviant' selves and it is in these spaces that we see how society has damaged their identity, to the extent that they are unable to control their own split selves.

Of course, the director Takashi Miike aims to satirise his own society and puts a moral twist by introducing the mysterious character of Q, who brings the whole family back to conscience. If Kiyoshi the patriarch is no longer in control of the whole situation and lets himself be swayed by various temptations, it's high time the mother needed to come out and assert her right, Miike seems to say. Q teaches Keiko to realise something that she has always possessed but never really realises she has -- milk from her breasts. Through this blatant (and some might say obscene) symbol of breast milk, Miike seems to be saying that it's the mother who needs to stand up and usurp the centre stage of family rearing, not being brainwashed as a robotic servant as the patriarchal society of Japan would like to dictate.

However, this film doesn't signal any romantic return to the perfect family setting, but shows how such return is impossible. Keiko, along with other family members, are transformed into perverse creatures due to strict social norms. Even though they seem to realise the power of motherly love in the end, the whole thing happens in a highly artificial place, i.e., a greenhouse, with a big sheet of tarpaulin covering the mother figure as if it were a sacred shroud (as appearing in the picture above). For me this may be construed as a parody of Virgin Mary.

I prefer Visitor Q to Audition, Miike's work that's probably more well-known internationally. Visitor Q is very fresh and even though it's extremely violent and weird in its own way, it's incredible that Miike manages to hide some messages in the film but at the same time doesn't make this teaching look too cheesy. This moral perhaps is indispensable, otherwise I would probably feel too guilty to laugh at certain scenes of this film.

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