Japanese cinema is notoriously strange, offering plenty of ripe pickings for our weekly weird watch. While some J-horror has become part of the Western mainstream, there are some films too weird to even consider for American audiences. Ghost stories like Rings and Dark Water are easy to translate. Subversive, super-uncomfortable stuff like Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q? Not so much.
Miike is pretty prolific. The director releases four or five films a year, ranging in tone from kid’s flicks to stuff that’s adults-only. Best known this side of the Pacific for his 1999 adaptation of Ryu Murasaki’s Audition, Miike is a connoisseur of the deranged. His films leave their mark on viewers, for better or worse. Warning: Visitor Q is for adults 18+ only. Reader discretion is advised.
Freaky Family Values
Visitor Q often draws comparisons to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, a 1968 film about a stranger who seduces an entire family. Miike’s stranger is the enigmatic Q, who appears one day and inserts himself into the Yamazaki family. The Yamazaki’s are a damaged bunch. The mother, Keiko, is a masochistic heroin-addicted prostitute. The daughter, Miki, is a prostitute who sells her services to her own father. The son, Takuya, frequently beats his mother. All of this is documented on camera by the family’s patriarch, Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi is creating a documentary about Japanese youths and sex, going so far as to record his intimacies with his own daughter.
The mysterious Q appears one day and whacks Kiyoshi over the head with a rock. He then starts living with the Yamazaki family, influencing each of them in some way. He pushes them to even greater extremes, which isn’t good given their habits. The strangest thing he does is introduce Keiko to a lactation fetish, milking her to relieve some of her tension. Her son watches through a door, and starts a fight at dinner by throwing hot soup in her face. Kiyoshi doesn’t react, instead going to film some teenagers shooting fireworks at their house.
Everything about the Yamazaki family is inherently broken. None of the family members show one another love or respect. They are cruel, selfish, and nigh-irredeemable.
The Family that Slays Together…
Q begins taping the family’s escapades at Kiyoshi’s behest. Much of the movie is filmed on grainy, handheld devices. It feels more like a documentary, or someone’s home movie. It’s this hyper-real imagery juxtaposed against the surreal behaviors of the Yamazaki family that make Visitor Q so damn unnerving.
Under Q and the camera’s watchful eye, Kiyoshi sexually assaults a female coworker. He accidentally chokes her to death, then takes her back to the family greenhouse to dispose of the body. Q remains completely neutral to everything that happens, unfazed by the awfulness. Kiyoshi tells him to go get some garbage bags. Q discovers Keiko dressed in said garbage bags. Then things go from weird to absolutely, totally insane.
The family’s moral disintegration reaches its apex in a triple-whammy of necrophilia, scatological humor, and a breast-milk rain shower. Anyone who has stuck with the film is so numb to shock by this point that what’s happening on-screen becomes funny. Visitor Q is so aggressively offensive that it ceases to actually offend. As part of a larger commentary on reality television, the concept works. As the Yamazaki family continue to degrade themselves, often in front of the camera, the film starts to become a 90-minute The Aristocrats joke. There’s something really smart underneath all of the poop jokes and rape, it’s just hard to find.
Why Watch Visitor Q?
So why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to Visitor Q? This abrasive, socially abhorable movie isn’t for everyone. The film’s celebratory ending involves Keiko and Kiyoshi brutally dismembering children. Anyone with a sensitive disposition should look elsewhere for entertainment. For cinephiles looking for something truly unique, however, Visitor Q is a brilliant and daring examination of fractured families and reality TV.