That freaked me out. It's properly disturbing. Obviously a cheap quickie, but it got under my skin.
It's a scandalously neglected film from Takashi Shimizu. He's best known for the Ju-on
films, but he's also done Tomie: Re-birth
(the fourth one, poor), Rinne
, aka. Reincarnation (decent), The Shock Labyrinth 3D (title = bad omen) and Rabbit Horror
(no, really). Ju-on
's great, by the way. People get sniffy because he's made so many of them, but it's a concept that can sustain all those sequels (unlike Ringu
) and strong enough that I even like the American remakes.
Marebito he shot in only eight days, between Ju-on
s. It's cheap-looking. It's been shot on video, there are very few actors and a lot of it is the footage from the cameras of the lead character (Shin'ya Tsukamoto). He's a video nut. For a while I was wondering if this would be a found footage film.
As for the story, I was convinced it must surely have been adapted from a Junji Ito manga. It's not. It's based on a novel by Chiaki Konaka, whose screenwriting credits also include Hellsing
, Devilman Lady
and Serial Experiments Lain
. What it shares with Junji Ito is that dreamlike narrative quality. It feels like you're trapped inside a nightmare, often with little dramatic structure as Hollywood would understand it. Tsukamoto lives his life through TV screens. He carries a video camera around with him and shoots things like a man sticking a knife in his own eye. In close-up, from a distance of less than a metre away. He then watches this repeatedly, telling us in voice-over that he wants to see what this man saw that made him commit suicide via his eye sockets.
He also watches what's probably a snuff film and is unimpressed by the terror on the victim's face. It's not good enough. Reality isn't good enough, in fact. A TV image has more realism than real life does.
We're trapped with this guy. Somehow the aesthetic feels as if it's only going to be a forty-minute straight-to-video film, but no. It's a full 92-minute feature and Tsukamoto won't get any cuddlier. However the film takes a left turn when a bald guy with staring eyes climbs out of the wall. There's a powerful Lovecraft influence, with a subterranean world that at one point is called "the Mountains of Madness". For me, in fact, it's nailing that eerie Lovecraftian shiver of other worlds better than Lovecraft himself usually achieved. The film wouldn't be nearly so effective if we hadn't glimpsed the tunnels and weren't wondering if those creepy people we occasionally glimpse hadn't followed Tsukamoto up from there. The guy in the hat. The nagging mother.
In another scene, I was almost desperate for Tsukamoto to stop watching his TV screens and look behind him. There wasn't anything there, of course. I was still cringing pre-emptively anyway.
And of course there's F. Tsukamoto doesn't come back empty-handed from his journey underground. He brings something back, which he calls F. If I were to be reductive, I'd be saying that F is one of the two most hackneyed and over-used horror monsters ever to make you roll your eyes. However Shimizu has found a new take on ancient material, which had me cringing on the sofa and, at one point, looking away from the screen. My word, that was horrible. What's so ghastly about it is that it's passive and consensual. It's one of the great relationships in horror, I think, but hardly anyone's ever going to know about it because it's genuinely disturbing instead of just being gory fun.
This film works on different levels. You could see it as an unreliable narrator story, with the whole thing possibly being Tsukamoto's lethal delusion because he stopped taking his medication. It's a new take on an old genre, with F. Most intriguingly, it's also about reality bleed and a mind that's blurring the boundaries between the real world and what we see through a viewfinder. Tsukamoto regards reality as deficient and has a psychotic dissociation from it, although that said he clearly has an intellect (albeit a worryingly directed one) and he's aware of precedents like, for instance, Kaspar Hauser. He also has an M.C. Escher print on his wall.
Two linguistic points. Firstly, wikipedia says the Deros are named after the "detrimental robots" in Richard Sharpe Shaver's A Warning to Future Man, but I noticed that in the end credits, the word's written in katakana. The ro in "Dero" thus looks like the mouth in "deguchi", so does "dero" suggest exit? Secondly, the title "Marebito" is an ancient Japanese word for a divine being who comes from afar with gifts of wisdom, spiritual knowledge and happiness. "Mare" means 'rare', while "bito" means 'person' but also 'spirit'. There used to be marebito rituals and ceremonies and in certain places (e.g. the Ainu's Iomante bear festival on Hokkaido) there still are.
This is a nearly perfect film. The Deros look faintly amusing, but that's it, I think. It's a cheap-looking, disturbing and wildly unpleasant experience, but that's the point. It's at once claustrophobically down-to-earth and a trippy, mind-expanding kind of horror that would probably melt your sanity if you watched it on drugs. Some of its most comfortable scenes are when Tsukamoto's talking to a dead man. It's outstanding, but most people will probably find it unwatchable, in one way or another.
"I believe our ancestors were better developed than us. They could see the things coming into our dimension that we can't."
"Recently, I attract madness."