- Original title
- Bijita Q
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 84 minutes
- 1 May 2001
by Tom Mes
Dead or Alive and Audition were only the beginning of Takashi Miike's attempts at cinematic transgression. Anyone who was disturbed by the imagery of these two widely acclaimed and reviled films should refrain from watching Visitor Q, a hilarious and thoroughly deranged take on the family unit.
Visitor Q opens with a bedroom scene between a middle aged man (Kenichi Endo, who worked with the director on Dead or Alive 2, Family and The Guys From Paradise) and a teenage girl. It's an enjo kosai (paid companionship) situation all too familiar from such films as Masato Harada's Bounce Ko Gals (1997), but it moves into a different realm entirely when companionship becomes explicit sex and we realise that these characters are in fact a father and daughter. The girl is a runaway who has turned to prostitution and dad duly pays her for her time. Not only that, he films the proceedings. Dad, as it turns out, is a television reporter with a particular fascination for the subject of 'young people today'. This fascination and his naïvely intrepid, hands-on reporting style have gotten him into hot water before, and now it leads him into having sex with his own estranged daughter in an anonymous hotel room, where he at first only came to interview her about her activities. The scene starts ominously. The girl looks straight into the camera he's holding. "So you want to know about today's teenagers?" she asks him rhetorically, "They tell you the future of Japan. That hopeless future." To illustrate her point, she takes off her sweater. In a hopeless world, sitting in a bedroom with your father is nothing more than an opportunity to make some money. Dad protests at first, but several seconds later, his hand intrudes into the frame and touches her between her legs.
When he returns alone to the family homestead we realise that the opening scene was merely the tip of the iceberg. The house is in ruins, the subject of nighttime raids with fireworks by the son's bullying classmates. But the devastation is also caused by the fights that regularly erupt between son and mother. The son, unable to cope with the anger and humiliation he experiences at school, terrorises, beats, and whips his mother (effectively played by manga artist Shungiku Uchida), who, limping and covered in bruises, tries to find solace and relief in heroin but has to turn to prostitution to support this habit.
Though it shares its subject matter with Sogo Ishii's Crazy Family (Gyaku Funsha Kazoku, 1984), Masayuki Suo's Abnormal Family (Hentai Kazoku: Aniki no Yomesan, 1983) and French director François Ozon's Sitcom (1998) in its portrayal of an unhinged family, Visitor Q differs from these in that it's not meant as a parody of its subject. Unlike those three films, the aim of Visitor Q is not to mock the family unit, but rather to use its inherent workings as the basis for a virtuoso exercise in extreme exaggeration as a storytelling device.
And a wonderfully inspired piece of exaggeration it is too. Crazy as this film may seem, everything that happens has its logic. The relationships between the characters are in fact little more than an allegory for their actual roles within the family unit. The behaviour of the characters, and the dynamics and relationships between them are skilfully observed and though their habits seem at first excessive, at their core each of them is surprisingly true to their traditional family roles. They may be exaggerations, but none of them are truly that exceptional. The father and his young mistress, the Oedipal adolescent's insecurity towards his mother, the bullying class mates, the mother's dependency on barbiturates, all of these phenomena are hardly uncommon in everyday life.
The way Miike employs them here gives Visitor Q a validity and an allure that push it far beyond simple shock value and into the realm of art. Their use is functional, rather than excessive. Because these characters are more or less normal people at heart, it's not surprising to learn that what they really strive for is harmony and unity. It just takes a big blow to the head, literally, for them to realise it. That blow is dealt by an enigmatic young guest, the visitor of the title, who after beating dad on the head with a rock on two occasions, shacks up with the family and shows each of them in their own uniquely twisted way what it is they truly need or want. It's a process that involves several murders, necrophilia, and a kitchen floor covered in a mixture of breast milk and vaginal fluids.
As a result, the chaos of people living under the same roof becomes a family unit again. The film might sound like a parade of depravity and an assault on the sacrosanct institution of the family, but is surprisingly conservative at heart. When the credits roll, each member of the family has re-assumed his or her natural role in the restored unit. They may have developed a liking for murder and necrophilia along the way, but at least they love each other again.
Visitor Q is the sixth and final part of the Love Cinema series, produced by the CineRocket company, which kicked off with Ryuichi Hiroki's Tokyo Trash Baby (Tokyo Gomi Onna, 2000). All six entries were shot on digital video and intended for the video market, although they received a brief theatrical run in a small cinema in Tokyo's suburban Shimokitazawa district.