Director: Gakuryû Ishii (as Sôgo Ishii)
Screenplay: Gakuryû Ishii (as Sôgo Ishii), Norio Kaminami, Yoshinori Kobayashi
Starring: Katsuya Kobayashi, Mitsuko Baisho, Yoshiki Arizono, Yuki Kudo, Hitoshi Ueki
Country: Japan
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1984
BBFC: 18

A number of Sôgo/Gakuryû Ishii (he changed his name part-way through his career) films have been released on Blu-ray over the past few years, mainly from his earlier years as a director, and I’ve watched and reviewed a handful of them. Whilst I’ve always been drawn to watching the films, each time I’ve found something holding me back from fully falling for them. Ishii’s wild, punk-influenced attitude towards filmmaking can result in films that go a little too off-the-rails to work as a cohesive whole.

There’s always enough invention and energy in the director’s films to draw me back though, so I embarked on another Sôgo Ishii adventure in the form of The Crazy Family when Third Window Films announced they’d be releasing it on Blu-ray as part of their Director’s Company series.

Ishii said The Crazy Family came about when he felt the need to make a different style of film about violence than the usual action or horror film. He wanted to make a comedy but one that reflected some of the real-life violence that was happening around the country at the time. There had been several well-publicised incidents where ‘normal’ people suddenly lost their minds and killed or attacked others. He also wanted to subvert the typical style of family drama made popular in Japan by the likes of Ozu and Naruse.

Ishii originally approached manga author Yoshinori Kobayashi with the idea and they developed it together. Ishii later managed to talk the Director’s Company, of which he was a member, into producing it (though it would prove to be his one and only film for the company). It took a while to finish the script, as the pair’s original draft was worked on by a couple of more experienced scriptwriters, but eventually The Crazy Family was finished and released in 1984.

Whilst it played outside of Japan, including a screening at the Berlin Film Festival, the film performed quite poorly in its home country, which meant Ishii struggled to get another production off the ground following this.

The Crazy Family tells the story of the Kobayashi family, largely from the perspective of its patriarchal figure, husband and father Katsukuni (Katsuya Kobayashi). He’s proud to have fulfilled his lifelong dream of owning his own home but is worried about the mental health of his family who will be living there too. He believes they’re suffering from “diseases of civilisation” and that his love will be enough to cure them.

His wife Saeko (Mitsuko Baisho) can be wildly uncouth around guests. His son, Masaki (Yoshiki Arizono) is shutting himself away from the world and becoming increasingly unhinged whilst studying constantly for his university entrance exams. Finally, his young daughter Erika (Yûki Kudô), thinks of nothing but becoming the ‘next big thing’ as a singer and all-round entertainer.

This is a lot for Katsukuni to handle but the straw that breaks the camel’s back comes in the form of his own father, Yasukune (Hitoshi Ueki), who moves in with them out of the blue after his brother kicks him out.

There simply isn’t enough space in the cramped new house for another family member, causing tempers to fray. Katsukuni believes digging a basement under the house will solve his problems but it only pushes his own sanity to breaking point. Once he finally snaps, all hell breaks loose, leading to a family ‘battle royale’ like no other.

The Crazy Family is a parody of Japanese society at the time. The country was booming, in a financial sense, with the ‘bubble economy’ just around the corner, causing a dramatic rise in house prices. As such, owning a home became a status symbol. However, housing complexes designed for the ‘nuclear family’ were developed to make it easier for families in Japan to get on the property ladder. These were quite small and cramped though, like the house in the film.

Not only that, the pressures faced by our set of characters were all based on real-life incidents or common issues at the time. For instance, Masaki’s story is actually inspired by the horrific case of a student at a cram school who snapped under the pressure of endless studying and killed his parents with a metal baseball bat. The Erika character, meanwhile, is lampooning the ‘idol’ star system prevalent in Japan at the time and the obsessive desire for many young people to be one of these all-round celebrities.

Whilst the issues confronted in the film were based on then-current affairs in Japan, they’re mostly still relevant elsewhere today. In fact, as a father myself, I found myself sympathising with Katsukuni and his difficulties in holding everything together at home whilst working full-time and dealing with endless problems. The resulting explosion of violence that this leads to might be over-the-top but I could relate to that anger finally bursting forth.

Due to this, I found The Crazy Family to be the Ishii film that finally hit my sweet spot. It has the wild energy and playful cinematic techniques of the other films of his I’ve seen, but this is matched by a cohesive theme that is cleverly and enjoyably explored.

There are a couple of moments where the barriers of taste were pushed a little too far for my liking though – namely when Yasukune threatens to rape his grandaughter and it looks like Masaki has that in mind too for his sister. However, the film just about gets away with it, due to the wild, unhinged nature of what happens in that second half. Also, the familial rape suggestion is reportedly a comment on a well-known ‘secret’ about incest within the Japanese imperial family, so there was reasoning behind the scene.

Overall then, The Crazy Family is a wildly anarchic but often fully relatable satire of modern family life and its many pressures. It pushes things a little too far briefly but, ultimately, I fell for the film’s offbeat charms.

Film:

The Crazy Family is out on 17th June on region free Blu-ray, released by Third Window Films as part of their Director’s Company collection. The transfer is impressive. Grain is well-handled and the colours are vivid. I had no problems with the audio either.

There are several special features included on the disc:

– Director approved remaster from the original negatives
– Feature-length audio commentary by Tom Mes
– Director Gakuryu (exSogo) Ishii interview
– “The Crazy Family: Sogo Ishii’s Wild Child” Video essay by James Balmont
– Slipcase with artwork from Gokaiju
– ‘Directors Company’ edition featuring insert by Jasper Sharp – limited to 2000 copies

Tom Mes provides a commentary. It’s excellent, as always. He gives some valuable context on the aspects of Japanese life being parodied here, as well as the usual background information about the cast and crew. He makes some interesting comparisons between the film and Tokyo Story too, at one point.

There’s also an interview with Ishii on the disc. He begins by talking about how he joined the Director’s Company then moves on to talk about the inspirations behind The Crazy Family and how it was developed. It’s a valuable piece.

James Balmont looks at how the film settles among Ishii’s more ‘punk’ films of the era. He makes a good case for it being much more aligned with them than the director’s later, often more meditative work.

Assuming the paper insert included is the same that appeared in previous Director’s Company releases, it provides a clear and concise history of the company, which is handy.

So, Third Window have put together an excellent package to complement a film that is very much worth your time. Highly recommended.

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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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