by Takashi Shimizu (Dir.)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Tartan Video DVD ISBN/ITEM#: B000E3LGMY
Date: 14 March, 2006 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
CAST: Shinya Tsukamoto as Masuoka * Tomomi Miyashita as F * Kazuhiro Nakahara as Arei Furoki * Miho Ninagawa as Aya Fukumoto * Shun Sugata as MIB
This new movie from the director of The Grudge is, like his other work (and a lot of recent Japanese movies), existential horror with heavy streaks of surrealism and dark fantasy, as well as a fascination with technology, that (marginally) qualify it for consideration as science fiction. Takashi Shimizu's last Japanese picture, Marebito was actually produced before The Grudge; prior to directing that American remake of his earlier Ju-On, Shimizu supposedly shot this in eight days (!). Don't let his other credits put you off, though, if you, like me, thought either or both of those movies were dismissible and mediocre. Perhaps the big creative difference here resides in a screenplay by Chiaki Konaka, whose extensive anime credits include writing for the cultish Serial Experiment: Lain; in any case, Marebito is, unlike Ju-On or The Grudge, unusual, original, smart and spooky.
Shinya Tsukamoto, best known to American audiences for writing and directing the underground classic Tetsuo the Iron Man, plays a nihilistic freelance videographer who accidentally captures a suicide on camera. Watching the footage repeatedly, he becomes obsessed with the terrified expression worn by the victim in the moment of death; this triggers a visionary experience, which then, depending on your interpretation, either sets off a series of elaborate hallucinations, or leads the protagonist on a dreamlike journey into an underground world, which consciously echoes themes in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Richard Shaver, the latter providing the blood-sucking Deros, or detrimental robots, who stalk him.
After that first act, the movie settles into an intriguing revisionist vampire/serial killer story, though it always keeps us in the dark about how often its events are hallucinated. Unlike most American movies that play that game (Vanilla Sky and The Machinist being recent examples), Marebito avoids the trap of focusing so hard on the question of "what is real" as to forget how "real" we need the story to feel to stay interested. Marebito has a careful, deliberate pace, allowing us to absorb inexplicable events as they unfold, in such a way that the subjective, literal plight of the hero, as he experiences it, remains engaging and suspenseful.
The atmosphere here is as creepy as anything in the new Asian horror canon; the acting and writing are clever and restrained - the latter is especially surprising, in light of how unrestrained a lot of recent Japanese horror is, and how wild-eyed the energy tends to get in movies shot this quickly. In fact, if it really was shot in eight days, this is a remarkably even, sustained piece of work.
Marebito is well worth seeing if you're into Japanese horror, or if you have a thing for underground lost world stories (that sequence, while brief, is pretty special). If you haven't seen any of the new Japanese horror yet, with its cold naturalism and extreme deconstructive/surrealist spin, this is an excellent place to start: the weird stuff in this movie is perfectly constrained to meet the familiar genre elements halfway, and the fantasy element gives it a unique and special flavor.