Masters of Horror: Imprint (Television)

Episode 13

Starring Billy Drago, Youki Kudoh, Michie Ito

Directed by Takashi Miike

Airdate: N/A

“Oh God, I’m surrounded by madness,” moans Billy Drago halfway through “Imprint.” Truer words have never been spoken. Whatever images lurked within the celluloid of Le Fin Absolue du Monde, it’s doubtful they could compare with the sheer mind-fuckery of Takashi Miike’s notorious Masters of Horror episode.

Having covered everything from splatterpunk to political satire, Mick Garris’ cable series has done a wonderful job of showcasing the versatility of the genre, but I think I speak for all fans when I say that none of the episodes to date has been particularly disturbing. This brings us to “Imprint,” which sparked media controversy when the spineless execs at Showtime freaked and deemed the episode unfit for American consumption. We wouldn’t want a horror series to be horrific now, would we?

Still, you have to applaud Garris and the producers for letting Miike do his thing. This is a genuine art-house shocker, viscious, uncompromised, and guaranteed to stun even the most hardened horror fan.

Set in 19th Century Japan, “Imprint” tells the story of an American journalist (Drago) and his search for the woman he left behind. Arriving at a brothel, he spends the night with a deformed prostitute who may hold the key to finding his long-lost love. Without going into specifics, things get strange. Very strange.

The episode is shot in English, which probably wasn’t the wisest idea. The language feels out of place in this story, Drago (who Miike obviously cast for his odd looks) delivers a horrendous performance, and the Japanese cast constantly grapples with the phonetics. But it really doesn’t matter in the end. The real star of this episode is Miike’s brain.

Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that “Imprint” lives up to its reputation. Incest, torture, and abortion are just a few of the items on the menu; and the director serves it up with his usual unflinching eye. There’s a dreamy, surreal quality to the freak show, and Miike even makes some poignant statements about the human condition. All in all, it’s exactly what you’d expect from this truly warped individual.

A pox on Showtime for their cowardice! “Imprint” is not only the best episode in the Masters canon, it also symbolizes just how stale and cookie-cutter American horror has become. We can only hope that the series continues to take more risks when the next season rolls around.

4 ½ out of 5

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Steve Barton

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