Marebito (2005)

Starring Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita, Kazuhiro Nakahara, Miho Ninagawa

Directed by Takashi Shimizu

Distributed by Tartan Films USA

After five Ju-On movies (seven, if you count the upcoming U.S. and Japanese sequels) you had to wonder if Takashi Shimizu had anything left to offer the cinematic world. Sure, the man scared us all shitless with his twist on the haunted house genre, but even die-hard fans were beginning to wonder if the Grudge-meister had anything else up his sleeve.

With Marebito, Shimizu has not only curbed his reputation as a one-hit wonder, he’s also cemented himself as one of horror’s most unique and versatile filmmakers.

Shinya Tsukamoto (cult director of the Tetsuo films) stars as Masuoka, a reclusive cameraman obsessed with the nature of fear. While on a location shoot in the subways, he accidentally captures the graphic suicide of an old man, which appears to have been committed out of pure fright. Determined to experience the same level of horror, our intrepid hero grabs his camera and ventures into the depths of the underground to find whatever it is the victim saw.

Truth be told, Marebito is a difficult film to review without jumping into a full-on spoiler-filled critique. Shimizu weaves a complex and abstract narrative that hinges on the viewer’s interpretation, and while there’s no denying the skill involved, it’s definitely not a film everyone will understand.

Through the use of handheld digicams, Shimizu evokes the feeling of H. P. Lovecraft by way of von Trier’s Dogma 95. But don’t let that deter you; while the latter may be a pretentious bi-product, the trademark style is used to enhance Masuoka’s twisted world of video. Like so many other great films in the J-horror cannon, Marebito draws on Japan’s tech-based fears, and Shimizu perfectly uses the medium to break down reality as the story progresses.

For someone who’s built a career on crafting scary images, it comes as a surprise that Shimizu explores fear almost entirely through psychology and philosophy. But it’s the thought-provoking nature that gives weight to the horror, and the film sustains a dark mood by combining the power of suggestion with some truly unsettling ideas. When the credits roll, the film leaves you with many questions, all of which beg to be explored with repeat viewings.

Overall, Marebito is a creepy and effective experimental film and certainly one of the year’s best offerings. It may not share the mass appeal of the Ju-Ons, but lovers of art house cinema will definitely find it a disturbing piece of food for thought.

4 out of 5

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