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1 review, 4 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Well, what do you know - Takashi Shimizu does have another trick."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 BOSTON FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL: The activity of the horror fan is peculiar. They seek out things that frighten them, things that make little sense. It's fun to be scared, they say, but generally what is meant is that it's fun to be scared when you can rest relatively assured that you're safe soon afterward. The protagonist of "Marebito" is looking for things that scare him, too, but I don't know if he's really having fun.

Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a freelance cameraman who on his way home sees a man commit suicide, plunging a knife into his eye as though he's seen something terrible. Wanting to know what it is, he retraces the man's path through the tunnels underneath Tokyo, going deeper until he finds an underground world with its own mythology and rules. He finds a young girl (Tomomi Miyashita) chained to a wall, naked, and brings her to the surface. He calls her "F", and finds her to be lethargic and unwilling to eat or drink anything - although it turns out he hasn't been trying the right things.

Director Takashi Shimizu (best known for roughly a half-dozen Ju-on/The Grudge movies) and writer Chiaki Konaka have a bunch of ideas that they keep in play: Obviously, when we see F's pale skin and sharp teeth, it doesn't take us long to see that they're going to give us a take on the vampire archetype. They're also playing with the concept of surveillance and videography, as well as hidden worlds. These ideas don't always mesh together perfectly well, but they do give the audience plenty of food for thought.

Stating that Masuoka is a cameraman isn't just mentioning his job, it's a description of his life. His tiny one-room apartment is packed with video gear. When he walks down the street, even if he's not working, he's carrying his mini-DV camera at hip-level and more likely to be looking at what's before him in the viewfinder rather than just looking straight ahead, and in his narration, he tells us that things don't look real until he sees them on tape. He sets several small cameras up in his room to monitor F, checking them on his cell phone. When the film takes his point of view, faces will often be blurry and backgrounds distorted until he looks through his camera, which makes the world grainy but comprehensible. It's an intriguing characterization and performance by Tsukamoto, in that he often comes off as an average working man, but he's so disconnected from the world that he only looks at it through a medium where he can completely control what he sees. He supplies us with plentiful narration, and encounters bizarre things, but Tsukamoto's performance is so good that it takes the audience a great deal of time to realize that this guy might not be the most reliable source for what's going on.

Shimizu and cinematographer Tsukasa Tanabe do a fantastic job leading us (and Masuoka) to other worlds underground. A film about a cameraman and his obsessive filming had better have good photography, even if it's obviously made on DV, and the pair do a great job on an extremely tight shooting schedule (principal photography took eight days). The underground areas are frightening, looking devoid of life but with a sense of menace around every corner - also credit composer Toshiyuki Takine for that. When this film gets its DVD release, one extra I hope to see is annotations for what Masuoka and his guide discus about hollow worlds and underground cities - they name-check writers and legends from up and down the twentieth century and all around the globe (who knew Lovecraft's Mountains of Madness were underneath Tokyo?). Shimizu and Konaka go beyond putting thought into their world to being downright scholarly about it.

Tomomi Miyashita gives the type of horror performance that's easy to overlook when discussing fine acting, but is exceptional nonetheless: Her F is feral, an animal in human form, and she never gives us much chance to humanize the character. She makes moving on two legs look awkward, and the way she attacks a bottle of red liquid is even more greedy and compulsive than how a human baby takes its nourishment. This is my favorite kind of vampire - animalistic, so divorced from human that even when the form is attractive, it's tough to conceive them as a sex symbol except to the most perverted.

The film is rather twisted by the end, and more than a bit off-putting as it makes a shift from a sort of taxonomical horror (where vampires are defined thusly and Lovecraftian monsters have such a mythology and can cause insanity with a glance) to something more internal, a more self-generated depravity. I'm not completely certain all the film's pieces fit together (or that we can trust the explanations given for how they do). Details of storytelling and continuity aside, though, Marebito does manage to conjure up a lingering discomfort, though, because it can draw a parallel between its audience and its protagonist: He, like us, is seeking out terror and madness, and both the search and the finding are unhealthy, maybe evidence of a broken soul. We see Masuoka's quest and actions and on a certain subconscious level must ask ourselves, is it really wise to go looking for these things?

Or, maybe it's only a movie, and one whose story is loosely held together at that. But if it makes the audience think about it, that's an unusual bit of power.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11510&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/16/05 01:47:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Boston Fantastic Film Festival For more in the 2005 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/06/07 Axel Leos creepy and eerie... 4 stars
8/08/06 K.Sear A little too Lynchian for my tastes. 3 stars
4/03/06 y2mckay Laggy, tedious, confusing, and cheaply made - but does have a naked Japanese vampire chick! 3 stars
3/15/06 Rocky This really didn't make any sense, started promising and ended up being a waste of time 2 stars
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  09-Dec-2005 (R)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2006



Directed by
  Takashi Shimizu

Written by
  Chiaki Konaka

  Shinya Tsukamoto
  Kazuhiro Nakahara
  Shun Sugata

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