After being fairly underwhelmed by Ju-On: The Grudge and its North American remake - both by director Takashi Shimizu - I wasn't quite certain what to expect from Marebito, another horror film from the helmer's unique perspective. I found myself pleasantly surprised, as although Marebito certainly has its flaws, it's nonetheless a consistently engaging, creepy and interesting entry in the Asian terror genre.
By Kim Hollis
December 7, 2005
I should note from the outset that Shimizu filmed this project in a mere eight days, completing the work in between his production dates for Ju-On and the Grudge remake. When you see how polished the work is (even though the movie was filmed on digital camera, which can be shaky at times), it's stunning to realize that he could do the work so quickly. There are some inconsistencies in the script that could probably have been corrected had the movie been drawn out to a longer schedule, but the look and feel are impressive.
The story centers on a fear-obsessed camera man named Masuoka. After seeing a man in the subway commit suicide due to some unknown dread/terror that can't be defined, Masuoka becomes consumed with experiencing fright of a similar intensity. He ventures into the subway tunnels, where he discovers a "netherworld" full of strange, mythological locations and interesting inhabitants. Finally, he finds a girl chained to a wall and adopts her as a "pet" of sorts, naming her "F" and attempting to satiate her hunger. Unfortunately, she simply refuses to eat or drink, leaving Masuoka in despair about what to do with his new charge. When he does find the key to keeping her alive and content, things do take a turn for the grisly and creepy, with Masuoka committing some atrocious acts in order to maintain status quo.
The film has some outstanding acting, most particularly Shinya Tsukamoto (director of Bullet Ballet and supporting star of Ichi the Killer) in the role of Masuoka. He does a marvelous job of conveying a strange world that is only properly viewed through his video camera - when he uses his own eyes, things tend to be distorted in some way. Tomomi Miyashita is feral as "F", convincingly looking far more animal than human.
Along with the fine acting, the city scenery and the world of the Underground is rendered in a realistic manner. Sure, when Masuoka gets to some mountain scenery you realize it's a painting, but it's a vividly detailed and realistic looking one that feels pretty solid. Perhaps it wouldn't be successful on the large screen (I saw the film on DVD), but the story and scenery do seem tailor-made for television.
As I mentioned early on, the film isn't perfect. There are a lot of ideas that are briefly touched on, but never fully fleshed out. For example, once Masuoka leaves the underworld with "F", we never really get to investigate why it exists even though it's obvious that Shimizu and writer Chiaki Konaka had some erudite intentions, with references to Lovecraft and Kaspar Hauser having some prevalence. The end result is ultimately unsatisfying on the whole as a result, but I found myself admiring the effort so much and enjoying the journey itself. Frankly, it's a film that cries out a bit for a remake with more attention given to the details, though I hesitate to wish for any North American director to attempt it.