Japanese Horror has become widely popular in the U.S. after the successes recently achieved by acclaimed hits such as "Ringu" and Ju-on, and while these past horror films are classics in their own right; there are quite of few imitations that deaden the premise of long-haired vengeful ghost. I remember watching a very different type of J-horror in early 2005; "Marebito" directed by Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on:The Grudge) is somewhat a "Lovecraftian" film in a very different way. It is somewhat similar to short "shock" stories and has the philosophy and psychology of contemporary Japanese culture. Quite frankly, I'm very surprised with the low rating this film has received in amazon.com, it is a lot better than most reviewers gave it credit for.
Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a cameraman possessed by the craving to understand fear. In particular, he obsesses over his footage of a grisly suicide in the subway. Returning to the scene to better understand the dead man's reasoning he opens a doorway into a bizarre, cavernous underworld. Here among the ghosts and subterranean creatures, he finds a beautiful, naked, mute young girl whom he takes to his home. As the days past, Masuoka suspects that there something truly inhuman about this girl. When he begins to uncover her terrifying secrets, Masuoka realizes that he has finally found the key in gaining the terrible knowledge he so craves...
Shot in a meager 8 days, with only a few actors with a very limited budget, with very limited special effects, "Marebito" achieves a lot by carefully understanding the mood of psychological horror. Alienation, self-pity and loathing, mutation, alien influences, loneliness, the collapse of tradition, perverted sexuality...all these hidden themes and motifs are observed in subtle fashion by this film. The film creates a bitter and unique moody feel to its main premise of very creepy obsession and inevitable descent into madness and eventual doom. The director's unique style in delivering the audience into the delves of Masuoka's unhinged consciousness through the camera's perspective adds a lot of gritty and disturbing "feeling" of being immersed into a psychotic mind. I commend the director in avoiding some overused special effects, because truly, the basic psychotic mind is such a terrifying thing to be privy to.
Shinya Tsukamoto is the right choice to play an alienated, solitary obsessive man. The man is an awesome director as well as a director. He played the antagonist on the recent hit "Nightmare Detective" as well as in the cult hit; "Haze" and is the director responsible for the TETSUO franchise. He plays his character with almost effortless fashion, he truly shines in playing a man detached from mundane reality and society, completely focused on finding the darkest, sinister truths in the nethermost places of human experience. The nude girl (Tomomi Miyashita) is obviously not normal, perhaps even inhuman, and she remains unnamed, which adds more to its flare of mystery. Disturbing highlights of Masuoka's madness include him feeding the girl blood, and with a twisted touch, from a baby bottle! Don't worry, this is NOT another vampire film. Masuoka has his own agenda why he took this nude girl to his apartment, and the reason is a bit subtle that some reviewers missed it. Masuoka lost his daughter in the past and now he awaits the final horror that this nude girl may be the avatar to his desire for self-destruction. There is also some use of subtle symbolism that represents Masuoka's commitment to his cause, the masochistic desire to feel and understand the darkest ultimate reality. The only way is down...into the abyss.
MAREBITO is at its strongest with its very subtle suggestive themes and teases. The film may get a bit slower-paced in the middle and gets a little hampered with promises unfulfilled. But with its backdrop of a very peculiar mind, that may have been imagined than as a reality; "Marebito" may disappoint those looking for explanations and details, but for me, the film is not a film about set-pieces, nor is it a film full of scary aliens and landscapes. "Marebito" delves into the psychological aspect, maybe blood represents something else and viewers may have to take multiple-viewings to understand the complexity of its plot and hidden details. It is more a mood piece about an obsessed individual on a downward spiral towards insanity and eventual destruction. The film is definitely cryptic in its delivery and maybe geared to an ESOTERIC few very initiated to this style of psychological horror. Dark, moody and cryptic, "Marebito" may not be a plot-based affair, but for some strange reason, I really enjoyed this offering by Takashi Shimizu. It is a welcome departure from the typical J-horror that has flooded the U.S. lately. It is an experience unlike any other, which is so effective with existential dread and mind-bending claustrophobia.
The unknown definitely arouses my interest....
Highly Recommended! To those who love mind-bending horror. [4 Stars]
Note: To my surprise, Tartan carries a phenomenal transfer for a film shot in 8 days with excellent subtitles and a surprisingly powerful Japanese language 5.1 DTS track.
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