Marebito (DVD)

MarebitoStarring Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita, Kazuhiro Nakahara

Directed by Takashi Shimizu

Released by Tartan Films

Anyone going into Shimizu’s first non-Grudge movie since Tomie: Rebirth expecting the same old retread of the overdone ghost story will likely be severely disappointed right off the bat. If you sit down with Marebito and keep your expectations to seeing something dark, creepy, and original, there’s a good chance you’re going to enjoy this film quite a bit.

Freelance cameraman Masuoka (Tetsuo helmer Tsukamoto) is bored with the images he captures on his camera day in and day out. When we first meet him he’s going through various pieces of footage he has of what appear to be ghosts and UFOs, but tells us through narration (indeed, the only real dialogue in the movie with some minor exceptions) that they mean nothing to him because they’ve already been defined as strange. He’s searching for something that no one’s seen before, something that will show him the true meaning of terror.

When he captures a man in a subway sticking a knife into his eye while a crowd tries to stop him, he realizes that the man had seen real terror, something so horrifying that the only escape was through death, and sets out to find it for himself. He travels underground, deeper and deeper below Tokyo, and discovers the long-rumored city beneath the surface of the metropolis. He encounters the man from the subway, now seemingly fine which is the first indication that something down below, or something in Masuoka’s head, is very much wrong. He is warned to avoid the albino creatures called Deros, which are probably the creepiest things in the entire film, and after traveling to almost the deepest part of the city below the city, he finds a girl (Miyashita) chained to a wall.

It’s pretty quickly clear that this girl is more animal than human, and Masuoka feels that maybe she is the key to discovering the terror he so obsessively seeks. He brings her back above ground to his apartment and studies her habits. She doesn’t speak, eat, or exhibit any of normal human tendencies, and the presence of very large fangs instead of normal teeth is an indication that she really is something other than human. She begins to starve to death, unable to eat any of the food offered to her by Masuoka, until the day he comes home after having been cut and she hones right in on the smell of fresh blood.

Quicker than you can say Little Shop of Horrors, Masuoka realizes that this girl, whom he calls simply F, needs blood to survive. She’s not a predator, however, has no desire to kill to get the blood, so Masuoka does the work for her, at first bringing her home stray animals but eventually moving on to random strangers he encounters. The truth of the matter, who this girl is and where she’s from, is far more disturbing than initially thought once all the layers are finally pulled back, but in the interest of keeping it surprising I won’t go any further.

Shimizu does a great job with atmosphere, utilizing footage that Masuoka shot during his travels to give the film an almost documentary film at times. The first half hour, as he travels deeper and deeper to the city below, are very reminiscent of the early works of H.P. Lovecraft who, before discovering the Old Ones, had a taste for tales of men seeking something other than what was in their everyday mundane lives and discovering fantastical things below the surface of their respective cities. Though this is never addressed specifically by Shimizu during the interview featured on the disc, it’s hard to imagine that screenwriter Chiaki Konaka didn’t take some element from the man’s work.

Tartan has done another commendable job with this DVD release, securing a very clean print for the transfer and getting the colors right; something very important in a movie that is conversely drab and vibrant throughout. The surround mix is especially effective during the underground scenes, which are mostly silent save for the occasional narration, and the distant sound of the Deros is even more unnerving when they appear to be coming from behind you.

Features include a 22-minute interview with Shimizu in which he discusses his first brush with the horror genre, his distaste for scenes that depict sadistic violence, and how Marebito came to be. He’s not exactly a bundle of energy, and it’s pretty clear the entire thing was shot by someone sitting in a chair holding a camcorder, which begs the simple question; why? Put it on a tripod, set it on a desk, do something to make it steady if you’re shooting it for a DVD extra. I’m pretty sure Tartan were not the ones behind it’s creation, rather it was culled it from existing special features, but I wish they could’ve found something a little easier to watch… though I guess the random zooms are one way to keep it from getting too dull. Shimizu’s actual conversation, the meat of the interview, is pretty interesting, so that helps.

Also included is a 12 minute chat with star Tsukamoto who comes across as very gentle, calm, and quick to smile. In other words not at all like the kind of man you expect when you see the film he’s directed. He clearly has a great respect for Shimizu and the horror genre as a whole. This is, however, another roughly made feature that could’ve benefited from some serious editing before it’s inclusion.

The final interview is with producer Hiroshi Takahashi, who spends a good 15 minutes discussing the significance of the J-horror phenomenon and it’s impact on the world. Takahashi is probably best known as the writer of Ringu 2, so he should know a few things about how Japanese horror is perceived worldwide. It’s nice that he was involved with getting the funding together for something as unlike the Ringu series as possible.

The features round out with the Marebito theatrical trailer, which is very effective, and trailers for other Tartan releases. All in all a tight little package I have to say, though I have to reiterate my complaint about the quality of the interview footage used. I wish Tartan were able to get their own on-camera interviews specifically for this release, especially since they had it in theaters briefly you would think this would be of more importance. Still, the interviews are informative and interesting (sure would be nice if someone showed some enthusiasm for once though), and it’s certainly better than seeing handheld “behind the scenes” footage passed off as a making of featurette…

Marebito is worth the buy for its merits as a film, and that’s what it’s really all about. It’s strength lies in Shimizu’s unwillingness to reveal too much too soon, choosing instead to leave the viewer with a collection of disturbing imagery that slowly threads itself together into a strong narrative. Fans of good, creeping horror on a more intellectual level will likely enjoy this quite a bit; those looking for jump scares and longhaired ghosts might want to look elsewhere.

4 out of 5

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Johnny Butane