Masters of Horror: Imprint (DVD)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Why is it always the forbidden fruit that we want to taste the most? Season One of Masters of Horror provided fans with some great short films from their favorite genre directors. They ranged from good to I-have-to-watch-that-again-immediately great. Yet, despite all of that goodness, there's one episode that fans have wanted to see more than any of the others. One that was deemed too over-the-top for American television. That episode is Takashi Miike's "Imprint." I know what you're wondering: Does it live up to the hype? Does it really go too far? Before we get into all of that, let's start with the basic story.
Billy Drago plays Christopher, an American journalist searching the Far East for his long lost love. Well, maybe not long lost. Truth be told, Christopher's love is an Asian whore named Komomo, who stole his heart along with some cash for a few lays. Christopher shared only a limited amount of time with Komomo, but before he headed back to the States, he promised her that he'd come back for her and the next time he left she'd be coming along with him.
The moments they spent with each other must have been magical because Christopher decided to make good on his promise. There's only one problem -- Komomo is now missing. Haggard from his search, our lovelorn hero ends up spending some time in the Asian equivalent of a brothel. This place is far from being the best little whorehouse in Japan; yet, something about it sets off a spark within him. Intuition can be a powerful device, and once Christopher comes face to disfigured face with another lady of the night, he picks up Komomo's trail. However, he may not like the path to truth he has now been placed on. There's an old saying, be careful what you wish for, and nowhere does that phrase hold more sentiment than in the nightmarish world of "Imprint."
That's all I'm telling you about the story. It's not that I am afraid of spoiling it for you, but "Imprint" is something that needs to be seen before it can be accurately discussed. Until you guys have sat through this full hour of total madness, you cannot fully appreciate the story's events. Words simply cannot do them justice. It's best to let this piece of ghastly beauty and horror unfold for you. There are parts of "Imprint" in which you will find yourself wanting to look away. I don't think you'll be able to. It's human nature to want to look deeper into the abyss of depravity, and at its heart, that's what this tale is all about. That's where the true horror lies, not through monsters or specters, but within ourselves.
Okay, you've waited long enough for the answer. Yes, "Imprint" is without question one of the most sadistically beautiful creations to grace the small screen in a very long time. I can imagine the looks on the faces of the Showtime executives while viewing the last half hour of this episode. They must have been simply aghast. However, I don't think that the film's torture sequence (while truly painful to watch and as extreme as it gets) was the culprit that kept us from seeing this episode. Instead, most of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of a few liberally aborted and tossed around fetuses. Fetus mangling is a shock tactic that is just about as high upon the list of J-Horror plot devices as young female ghosts with long flowing black hair. That, coupled with the fact that just about every hot-button-issue is touched upon during the film's short runtime. Abortion. Spousal abuse. Incest. Child molestation. It's all there on display. The question is how far can something be pushed until it is deemed inappropriate? Miike apparently pushed it just far enough for them to pass. Kudos to Mick Garris and the gang who opted not to compromise and cut "Imprint" in order to get it on TV.
If I had to describe "Imprint" in one word, the answer is a no-brainer: disturbing. You will watch it and, like it or not, will not forget it. If I had to choose another word, unfortunately, it would be. . .uneven. Every beast needs a beauty. What works against "Imprint" is there is no balance between the plight of the characters. Every one of them explores the darkest corners of humanity without exhibiting the slightest bit of goodness. In short, there's nothing for the evil to play off of, so after a while we become less horrified and more numb to it.
The Masters of Horror DVD's all share one common thread: They are stacked to the rafters with supplemental goodies. Up until now, each DVD has shared the same types of extras -- namely, the Working with a Master featurettes along with on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. "Imprint" once again goes against the grain and delivers a bit of a different, albeit just as robust, package. Gone are the multiple shorts, and in their place we get two near one-hour long looks at the film and Miike in particular and one near half-hour look at the special effects that helped to make "Imprint" so damned controversial.
The first featurette, Imprinting, takes the viewer on a journey and shows them what it took to bring "Imprint" to the screen. Everyone is here in full force, from the original writer of the story (who also has a cameo as one of the film's whores) to Miike and the film's stars. The art of Japanese filmmaking is vastly different in comparison to what goes on here in America. Bringing East and West ideals together on a single project was a pretty big undertaking, and lucky for us, it was a pretty damned interesting one, too.
From there we are treated to a featurette with the absolute longest name in DVD featurette history, I Am the Film Director of Love and Freedom: Takashi Miike. While the other Masters of Horror DVD's usually spent the majority of their supplemental time talking to actors about what it was like to work with so-and-so, this one gives us a chance to sit down with Miike himself and listen as he shares his views, influences, and background in the film business. Considering most American horror fans (especially those of the mainstream, casual variety) are unacquainted with Miike, this in-depth look at the history of one of Japan's now most noted and notorious filmmakers should make for the perfect introduction. Hopefully after watching this, they'll tune in to some other Miike classics like Ichi The Killer and, of course, Audition.
Things then get rounded up with the Imperfect Beauty featurette, which explores the joys of working with both rubber animatronic fetuses and the Hamburger Helper's nasty Asian cousin (you'll see).
I'd also like to make special mention of this episode's commentary track. Helmed by author, musician, and American Cinematheque programmer Chris D., along with Wyatt Doyle of Newtexture.com, this track covers everything about "Imprint" that's worth its salt, especially its shortcomings. The pair help illustrate exactly what went right and wrong with this feature including my only other gripe and the main thing that keeps "Imprint" from achieving a perfect score: the acting. While not bad by any stretch of the imagination, the language barrier that existed between the English-speaking portion of the cast and the direction of Miike becomes painfully apparent. I mean, c'mon, you cannot get or give the performances the way that you would like if nobody can understand each other. As a result "Imprint" is regrettably riddled with awkward vocal cues and some straight-out ludicrous over-acting. An all-Japanese cast that Miike could have more accurately directed would have made this episode a lot closer to perfect than it already is.
Despite its minor shortcomings, "Imprint" was more than worth the wait. It's every bit as visceral as even the most jaded of horror fans could have hoped for. If you had any doubt in your mind whether or not Miike should be included in the same company as John Carpenter or Dario Argento, then prepare to have those fears laid to rest once and for all.
Audio commentary with Chris D. and Wyatt Doyle
I Am the Film Director of Love and Freedom: Takashi Miike featurette
Imperfect Beauty featurette
Takashi Miike text bio
Original screenplay (DVD-ROM)
Collectible trading card
4 1/2 out of 5