Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Marebito – review

DVD

Director: Takashi Shimizu

Release date: 2004

Contains spoilers

Wow. Okay, review over.

But seriously that is probably the best I can give, as this film – which was shot in just eight days – is so brimming with ideas, concepts and references that I will undoubtedly not do it justice. Seriously, you could write a book looking into the aspects of the film. Also, I do not wish to spoil it too much by looking at some of the alternate meanings within the film, this is a journey of exploration for the viewer – which is actually one of the underlying principles, that it is the main character’s, Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto), own internal exploration of his and the human psyche.

gory suicideIt begins with imagery shot on camera, by Masuoka who is a freelance cameraman by trade. In one of the shots we see a woman looking out of a window and Masuoka states that he has saved her soul by filming her. In many respects he is a man who only sees the world when looked at through a camera. The news comes on one of his screens and shows a suicide of a man, in the subway, that he shot; the details fuzzed out for popular consumption. We see the real footage, as he shot it, and the suicide is grizzly – the man, Furoki (Kazuhiro Nakahara), stabs himself through the eye.

Masuoka wants to see what Furoki saw; he states he would go as far as a psychopath, filming the terror reflected in his victims’ eyes. He stands over a precarious bridge, looking at the traffic below, but does not feel the terror. In a visionary moment, filled with digital imagery, he realises the truth – as the eye of Furoki turns to camera for a moment and a strange creature seems to be overlaid onto his vision. The truth is underground.

Shinya Tsukamoto as MasuokaAs he returns to the suicide scene he throws away the Prozac he must take – to control his serotonin levels – they blind his eyes to the truth. Deeper he goes, using the camera as his eyes. In tunnels beneath the underground he finds a homeless man who warns him of the Deros – who will suck your blood dry. These are the creatures he has seen in vision, alien in appearance and animalistic in movement, and the name comes from the work of Richard Shaver – but we’ll mention that again. Interestingly much of the film is in voice-over and such dialogue is being used when he sees the homeless man, who answers the voice-over as though he can read his thoughts. Masuoka sees one of the deros and it leads him even deeper underground.

Furoki and MasuokaSat, exhausted, he is approached by Furoki – who doesn’t seem to accept that he is dead. They speak of the place, this is Hollow Earth mythology and Blavatsky is mentioned as is Shaver. Shaver wrote stories of the Hollow Earth and had the deros – or detrimental robots – as evil denizens of the subterranean kingdom. In the dialogue it is suggested that Shaver wrote fiction which became prophecy through belief. It is interesting to see that Furoki leads him using a lantern not dissimilar to that used by the tarot hermit. A thought also occurs, not specifically mentioned in the film, that the ghost of Furoki appears because Masuoka filmed his death and thus saved his soul.

Inside the Hollow EarthFuroki vanishes when confronted again by his death but Masuoka is close to a lit area. When he approaches it he finds himself in a sunlit cavern, with huge ravines and mountains – the Mountains of Madness he calls them, referencing Lovecraft. In many ways we can say that he is at the depths of his psyche, or his madness, remembering the variety of levels I said the film works on.

In a cave, chained, is a naked girl and – through methods unseen – he takes her back to the surface and his apartment. He names her F (Tomomi Miyashita), though he doesn’t know why. We see him get a regular job and buy a pet cam that he can access through his phone to keep an eye on her. In the voyeuristic nature of the film we see the job interview and shopping through a hidden camera he carries.

examining fangsAs he examines the girl we see she has sharp fangs and realise that she is not human. She will not eat or drink and sleeps for all but three hours a day. He actually refers to her as his Kasper Hauser. Yet she seems to be wasting away and when he finds her in obvious shock – the twelve seconds in which something happened mysteriously blanked from his various cameras – he tries to feed her milk which she vomits.

digital glitches in the real worldHe is back on the street, with his camera and we see how detached reality is for him as passers by lose their faces to a digital scrub, though we do not see this through his camera, when he is attacked by a man who says he filmed him. The camera is smashed and he cuts his finger. Back at the apartment F is clearly attracted to the blood and he allows her to suckle his finger and then cuts his hand, spilling blood on the floor which she laps up before suckling at him.

harvesting bloodHe discovers then that she drinks blood exclusively and rationalises that she was never fed milk as a baby but was fed on blood by the deros. He must find blood for her but animal blood, whilst accepted, is not satisfying. He ends up murdering and harvesting blood, whilst filming the deaths, an act that harks back to his proclamation about acting like a psychopath. Or does he really kill them? We are never sure of reality in this.

attracted to his bloodThe film could represent his madness, his enlightenment or reality. F may be real or she may be his anima, his female aspect. Is she a vampire? Yes in some aspect/interpretation of events – she has fangs and subsists on human blood. It could depict actual violence (against strangers or those not so unfamiliar) or even the violence could be illusion. We do not know because Masuoka does not know and his perspective of what is occurring changes. To truly appreciate this multi-layered interpretation you would really have to watch the film.

I do not want to spoil it too much but the finale of the film actually redefines, to me, the sensual vampire feed, a devouring and a passionate kiss at once. This is even more interesting as it is a human interaction and through the film we have seen Masuoka interact almost exclusively, unless forced to, via electronic mediums – be they looking through a camera or speaking on a phone – with his only voluntary non-electronic interactions being with a ghost and with F – whom he admits he treats like a pet.

a flicker of emotionThe film is really made by Tsukamoto’s performance which is flawless but we cannot dismiss Miyashita’s performance either. She is at turns animalistic, without emotion and yet – towards the end – she shows a flicker of emotion that betrays the purposefully emotionally dead persona she projected. As an aside, Tsukamoto was the director of cult Japanese movie Tetsuo.

I really did not notice the soundtrack, which is neither a positive or negative but one feels that this had much more to do with the fact that the film is empowered by its visuals. On the other hand the actual use of sound effects are very effective, one to obviously note is the sound of the deros, which makes use of whale call.

Tomomi Miyashita as FNot all is perfect, perhaps some of the FX are a little shaky and the film owes much, stylistically at least, to the dogme school of filmmaking, but this was a rapidly produced project. It is also not going to be popular in all circles. Many will be put off by the raft of ideas and references that Masuoka experiences, some which are discarded and others juxtaposed against one another with no obvious rhyme or reason but there is a rhythm and it is one born from within the grip of insanity, or perhaps a true vision of sanity. However this is, to me, a stunning film and I have found with it a new movie to add into my all time favourites list. 9 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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