The Crazy Family (1984) by Sogo Ishii

A bizarre take on Japanese family drama, serving as a satire of what was to come.


Japanese cinema has often been associated with the family drama, from the master works of Yasujiro Ozu to the modern-day unorthodoxy of Hirokazu Koreeda. Whatever the take, family-driven pieces, often revolving around a single location, have been taken on by a number of different directors. One of the more bizarre looks at the genre is Sogo Ishii's (Gakuryu Ishii's) "The Crazy Family". Coming at the dawn of Japan's "Bubble Economy", "The Crazy Family" is a bleak look at what was to come, influencing many that came after it.

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Katsuhiko (Kobayashi Katsuya), the head of the Kobayashi family and stereotypical salaryman, has at last been able to fulfil his dream of buying a suburban family home for his wife and two children. However, once they are moved into their domestic bliss, neuroses kick-in and it quickly becomes Katsuhiko's worst nightmare.

His wife, Saeko (Baisho Mitsuko), gets drunk and acts wild; his son, Masaki (Arizono Yoshiki), obsesses over his exams to the point of insanity; and his young daughter Erika (Kudo Yuki) is infatuated with idols and achieving fame as a star. To make matters worse, Katsuhiko's father (Hitoshi Ueki), kicked out by his brother, comes to stay indefinitely and soon grows mad, reliving his World War II actions.

But it is Katsuhiko himself that is the most mad of all, acting neurotically at the thought of white ants destroying their new home; doing more harm than good. With his attempts to accommodate his father leading him to destroy the house from within, it all becomes too much for the rest of the family. Each are pushed to their limits and prepare, in their own, idiosyncratic ways, for an ultimate battle royale that will destroy both the house and the family unit.

"F" is a letter that could be used to describe this film. Not only is it about Family, it is Fast, Furious, Frantic, with lots of Fighting and some occasional Funny moments. Set largely in the family's dining room, this is an assault of noise, energy and extremity. The anti-quiet family drama, Ishii shows the madness of suburban bliss and how the pressures they all face push them to the edge. Very little is shown of their external lives, save for some minor shots of Katsuhiko at work, with the family home the central point as their dream house becomes the prison of their nightmares. It is a place to harbour obsessions to an unhealthy level, with the close proximity driving the family apart. They may enjoy having escaped a busy urban environment, but they have brought the everyday aggression of the city with them.

The soundtrack is a continuous noise of Katsuhiko's drill as he tries to dig a basement room to accommodate his father in the middle of the dining room: the house's focal point. The family revolves around the noise, responding with their own shouts and screams. Erika's voice is a high-pitched squeal, mimicking both the teen idols and Disney characters that fill her bedroom walls, as she sings karaoke and rehearses her acting. The only quietude comes in the form of Masaki's bedroom, where he studies non-stop, resulting in equally sinister behaviour.

Masaki Tamura's camera matches this endless noise energy, with fast-paced shots and constant movement, reflecting a family - though settled in their home - unable to stop moving. The beautifully comic scene where Katsuhiko hurries home with termite killer has the camera move at his pace, as he runs through a moving train in the hope of getting home that little bit faster. This can, at times, become grating for the audience, wishing for some relief from the relentlessness of it all. No doubt, this is the very emotion Ishii sought to evoke.


A clear satire of domestic bliss, the house becomes the world for the family; the final fight scene between all members sees them make use of any household item they can find to engineer a weapon, as if resources from the outside world are unobtainable. This feels very reflective of 1980s and 1990s Japan, the rise of the bubble economy resulting in all manner of conspicuous consumption, karaoke machines and the ingenious/in-genius phenomenon of "Chindogu" and the "unuseless" idea.

But this film came in 1984, before all that became reality. Ahead of his time with "The Crazy Family", it is clear to see Ishii's influence on future generations of directors, notably a pre-2002 Takashi Miike with his equally bizarre family films "Visitor Q" and "The Happiness of the Katakuris". While differing in style, the ending appears echoed in Kiyoshi Kurasawa's 2008 "Tokyo Sonata". The house seemingly destroyed, the family are able to rebuild their lives together in a more open environment, free from the pressures of conforming and the trappings of suburban living.

If Heaven is perfect, it'll soon become un-enjoyable. "The Crazy Family" isn't perfect, though isn't necessarily enjoyable either. Welcome to the family...

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Asian Film Vault: The Crazy Family (1984) by Sogo Ishii
The Crazy Family (1984) by Sogo Ishii
A bizarre take on Japanese family drama, serving as a satire of what was to come.
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Asian Film Vault
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