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THE CRAZY FAMILY [Gyakufunsha Kazoku] (1984).

Not many people caught this pitch-black comedy when it was released in the United States -- no surprise since its New York City engagement consisted of a one-week run at an upscale arthouse theatre, and a sparse, thoroughly confused audience of blue-haired Upper West Siders. Though still unavailable on video, I'd like to give it my vote as one of the most genuinely demented movies to ever emerge from Japan. And that's saying a LOT! Directed by Sogo Ishii (ANGEL DUST), this was his first (and as of yet, only) feature film to be picked up by an American distributor. Mixing sledgehammer social satire with rapid-fire cinematic dementia, this is an unforgettable excursion into the darkest recesses of his culture's middle-class values, as well as a precursor to such '90s cult hits as TETSUO: THE IRON MAN. Vicious and unrelenting, THE CRAZY FAMILY focuses on the outwardly-sane Kobayashi family. They're an Asian bourgeois wet dream, complete with a successful dad, a loving wife, and two well-adjusted children. To top it off, they've just moved into their suburban dream home. Sounds perfect? Not for long. Because soon their unwanted grandfather moves in, white ants are discovered feasting on the woodwork, tempers begin to percolate, and the family's oft-mentioned "sickness" takes over, which sends our happy Nuclear Unit spinning headfirst into a series of comic obsessions. Father begins digging up the floorboards and spreading toxic bug poison; the straight-laced mother does an impromptu striptease for her ever-more-paranoid hubbie; and the daughter practices for her unlikely pop star career. Meanwhile, the son crams for his Tokyo University entrance exams by turning his room into a high-tech nightmare, complete with electrodes, glowing pyramids, and a handy knife which he stabs himself with in order to stay awake. The household hostilities escalate and soon the place becomes a full-scale battlefield -- the family armed with mothballed World War II weapons, a chainsaw, even a baseball bat with the family dog strapped to it. Gramps goes so far off the deep end that he takes his pre-pubescent granddaughter hostage and threatens to rape her. In between the various fires and explosions, Ishii makes scathingly hilarious points about life in modern-day Japan, where socially-programmed perfection and technological advances have taken their toll on a new generation. Imagine a movie that begins like FATHER KNOWS BEST, turns into a mass-hysteria mix of THE SHINING meet THE SIMPSONS, and is edited like a Road Runner cartoon on L.S.D., and you have THE CRAZY FAMILY. So if you can laugh at the notion of a father trying to murder his entire family by shoving a coffeepot full of liquid ant poison into their faces and urging them to drink, then you'll have no trouble appreciating its distinct brand of mutant-age humor. I admit I probably missed some of the deeper social implications of the work, but I was thoroughly impressed by Ishii's technical wizardry, as well as the entire tone of this wild, flamboyant and extremely sadistic comedy.

© 1994 by Steven Puchalski.