Oh, reality TV. Sweet, intelligence-sapping, airwave-clogging reality TV. Centuries from now, historians will discover amidst gordita wrappers and discarded Team Edward shirts evidence of people who shouldn’t have been famous trying to prove why they should be. The concept was fairly green in 2001, but Takashi Miike anticipated the desperation that would soon follow in Visitor Q. Even for the man whose Audition churned our tummies and provoked our thoughts, Visitor Q is an unapologetically raw and uncomfortable piece of work, a film that captures all sorts of sights that should’ve remained unseen.
Meet the Yamazakis, a family for whom “dysfunctional” is much too mild a description. Patriarch Kiyoshi (Ken’ichi Endo) is a pathetic sadsack obsessed with creating the next reality television hit. After one attempt makes him a laughingstock, Kiyoshi turns the lens on his own clan, who have more than enough material to spare. With a daughter (Fujiko) who’s a whore, a son (Jun Muto) who’s relentlessly bullied, and a wife (Shungiku Uchida) who turns tricks for drugs, Kiyoshi is sure he has a sensation on his hands. Then out of nowhere emerges a mysterious visitor (Kazushi Watanabe) who settles in with the family. Though he sticks to the background, the visitor’s mere presence inspires the Yamazakis to descend further into perversity, chaos, and all other forms of outright madness.
Visitor Q is among that league of select films I admire for their artistic bravery but will never, ever see again. Unlike those movies content with just rattling your senses, Visitor Q at least includes something of an agenda for your troubles. The above synopsis might not sound like much (you could easily rewrite it into a Lifetime movie), but when you’re dealing with Takashi Miike, you know the utterly maniacal is waiting for its cue. Insanity begins with the very first scene, in which Kiyoshi is shown having an unsavory tryst with his own daughter. If that sets off any bad taste alarms, just wait until you’re face to face with sadomasochism, domestic abuse, and good ol’ necrophilia. But not long passes before Watanabe’s titular guest moves in, hauling with him both literal and metaphorical rocks with which to wallop the Yamazaki freak show upside the head.
To be honest, some of Visitor Q’s content had me pondering if Miike made the film just so Ichi the Killer would go down easier the same year. But there’s just as much method as there is madness here, as Miike whips this circus of the depraved into quite the effective satire. Our boy questions whether it’s so wise to spend our lives watching the lives of others or for these folks to put their every eccentricity on display to begin with. Kiyoshi films his own family’s dissolution and goes on about how “real” it is, though he lifts not a finger to help. That task is left up to Watanabe, and although things get even more bizarre when he arrives, they actually help to mend the Yamazakis’ warped family dynamic. How it’s done is something I’ll let you see for yourself, but I will say I award kudos not only to the cast for enduring what they do but also to Miike for convincing them to do it.
I sincerely hope that Visitor Q won’t end up another Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a film strong in theme viewed mostly by bored frat boys testing its reputation. It is worth a watch just to say you’ve seen something of its brazen caliber, but don’t let its personalized jabs at media surprise you. Distinctive shocks are Miike’s bread and butter, and while he’s not always on the ball, Visitor Q will please the minds of those who have the stomach for it.
Read Chris Luedtke’s Visitor Q review here.