When I first saw the trailer for Takashi Shimizu's Marebito, my first instinct was "meh". It looked like a low-rent technophobic horror movie with some odd elements of the vampire genre. Which it is. Low-rent. Technophobic. Vampire elements, kind of. Except, well, it is not. Or is it? Dun dun dunnnnnnn...
Dude (aka Masuoka) is obsessed with filming life. He is also obsessed with finding "terror". Honest, haunting terror. The kind you die over. In particular, there is footage of a man killing himself by stabbing himself in the eye with a pair of scissors. Masuoka becomes obsessed with this footage, watching and rewatching it. He eventually goes down into the tunnel the suicide took place in and follow it down, around a corner, down some stairs, through some pipe-ridden rooms, and then even further down. Every time he seems to come to a dead end, there is another door, another stair-way. He goes deeper and deeper, and the reality of the events he experiences is less and less likely. He eventually meets up with the suicide victim and they discuss the philosophy/writings of Richard Shaver and the DeRo (detrimental robots). There are some misquotes on facts, here, which turn out likely to be purposeful. After the victim suddenly disappears, Masuoka finally comes to the end of journey, in a large cavern he calls the "mountains of madness"; and here finds a young woman, pale and nude, chained into a small cave. He takes her back to his apartment and starts religiously filming her and trying to take care of her.
From here to the movie's end, there are numerous creep outs. What is he going to do with the young woman? How "pure" is his constant voyeurism of her life (or lack thereof)? How far will he go to care for her? These are the sort of obvious questions, and form the outer-shell of the movie; but there are other scenes of him filming folk and a time or two where it goes awry that are also tense. Knowing he is filming people without them knowing feels wrong, like you are participating in it. Like the audience is an accomplice by being his audience. Finally, there are questions the veracity of any of it. For instance, in one scene, he comes back to find his apartment smashed up, his somewhat sizable collection of video equipment beaten into wires, and F (as he calls the woman) gone. Later he returns from a desperate search and she is there and in the next scene he is watching his equipment again. Did he buy more equipment on his irregular salary, or is he editing the life he shows to us? Are we are seeing a workprint of sorts? There is a moment where "12 seconds" is lost and never returned, a gap in footage due to some supernatural event? Or did the editing process make an improper cut?
The movie gives at least two, if not three, possible solutions to what is going on and then leaves it up to the viewer to make some decisions. I do not think it was meant to be to quite so clean cut (though one explanation is definitely more "truthful" and plain than the others, I do not think it is meant be to taken as canon). The movie makes a couple of references to a Philip K. Dick like mindset: references to things coming out of the sea, the importance of perception over reality, strange beings passing over unseen into our world. There are scenes of the man seeing more clearly through the camera than through is own eyes; but then the footage presented to us is brought into question. We are left having to conclude that no matter which of the various realities is true, we were not shown everything we need ot know and have to discount some of what we did see.
The conclusion? Well, at least some of Japan's low-rent horror movies are much better than most of America's low-rent horror movies. Shimizu, who also directed six of the the soon to be nine film long Ju On series (including the two American "remake-sequels" The Grudge 1 and 2 (I think he did 2), though Grudge 3 and the two newest Ju Ons are not with him at the helm) as well as my favorite movie out of the Films to Die For series so far—Rinne—took only eight days and what is the movie equivalent to pocket change to make this movie. While he does he make use of the "murky plot" and "let's see that again!" tactics to fluff some scenes, and some scenes come across as obviously acted and obviously fake, enough of the scenes hit right on point to show something that has bothered me for years now. Horror movies, if focusing on mood and technique and acting and pacing, never need lots of effects or monster shots to work. The most successful parts of Alien and Jaws and the beginning of Jeeper Creepers was the not showing too much of the monster (and this is why the ending of Jeeper feels like a failure to me, though I overall liked it). Why so many try so hard to blow budgets on showing the monster in full force and having to explain everything beats me. This is not porn, guys, there does not have to be a money shot to a face. Marebito leaves things up in the air and hints at things unseen and works twice as well as the opposite.
The name, for those curious, comes from "person from afar", which can either take on a divine sound or a "just a visitor" sound, much like the English word "stranger".
At any rate, this movie from afar gets a Good from me. I WILL watch again. Sure, it's overall slow and sure, 75% of the "dialogue" is an internal monologue droned out by Masuoka, and sure, very little is conclusively explained; but these are all good things in the context of this movie. And, AND, at the time of this writing, Amazon.com is selling brand spanking new copies of the Marebito DVD for only $4.99. I think they are having some sort of sale or clearance on Tartan Asian Extreme movies, or something.
Si Vales, Valeo
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Written by Doug Bolden
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