Less than twenty four hours after posting something in this site's forum declaring how I've grown weary of Asian horror in general, Takashi Shimizu (Juon: The Grudge) rides to the sub-genre's rescue with his trippy, bizarre quickie, Marebito.
Shot in just over a week on digital video (and between the making of the original Grudge and the U.S. remake), Marebito tells the tale of an introverted cameraman, Masuoka, his descent into madness, and the things he bumps into on the way down. Masuoka works as a freelance cameraman, and lives in an apartment filled with monitors and surveillance equipment where he dissects his daily video chronicles. For Masuoka, things aren't real until they are seen through the camera eye, and, when he captures a grisly suicide in a Tokyo subway, his video evidence leads him to this subway and below in search of what drove the man to kill himself.
Masuoka finds himself in a system of caves and tunnels beneath Tokyo, a place shared by both humans who hoped to drop out of society completely, and dangerous, blood-sucking humanoids called "DEROs". It is here that Masuoka encounters the specter of the man who killed himself in the subway, and learns that the world beneath our world is as vast and complex as our own. It is also here that Masuoka discover's "F", a young woman chained to a cave wall and seemingly left to die. Masuoka takes F back to the surface and tries to care for her, but she refuses to eat or drink anything...except for human blood.
How far will Masuoka go to keep his new "pet" satiated?
Marebito is one odd film. I have to admit that when the film opened on some monitors showed Masuoka staring intently at people he'd videotaped, I instantly though this was going to be yet another voyeuristic J-horror mess (like Pulse!), but, as the film got going, I found myself sucked in by the complex and fascinating storyline, as well as Shimizu's clever orchestration of events (using different digital media to hint at what is real and...well, I'll let you figure that out for yourself).
My only gripes with Marebito are of the usual variety when reviewing J-horror. The script gets sort of mangled in translation, and, seeing as how most of the dialogue here is Masuoka's narration, the film can be a bit hard to follow at times. The other problem I have is with the rather abrupt twist near the end. It's not executed particularly well, and too much is left to the imagination, taking away much of the impact that it could have had. Still, Marebito definitely got me thinking and talking after it was over, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked the movie. I also appreciated the way it merged Japanese horror with classic western horror and science fiction themes, with nods to Lovecraft and Wells amongst others.
Marebito is a unique, disturbing, and entertaining flick, and the fact that it was literally shot and conceived in less time than most people spend at Disneyland on vacation is nothing short of a minor miracle. While the movie does stray a bit too far out there at times, in the end it all makes perfect sense.
It just may take a few hours to settle in!