Sunday, May 8, 2011

REVIEW: Marebito: Stranger from Afar

稀人 (Marebito)

Released: 2004

Takashi Shimizu

Shinya Tsukamoto
Tomomi Miyashita
Kazuhiro Nakahara
Miho Ninagawa
Shun Sugata

Running time: 92 mins.

Reviewed by David Lam

The camera is constantly playing tricks on Masuoka, the hapless cameraman, as well as the viewer in Takashi Shimizu’s “Marebito”. Perspectives shift, things appear and disappear, creating an eerie sense of disorientation. This is a film where the viewer is just as confused as the protagonist. “Marebito” is often billed as a full-blown horror flick but is really a psychological slow burner.

The film begins with Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) frantically watching and re-watching the grainy footage of a deranged man who shoves a knife into his eye. Masuoka is repulsed but intrigued by this particular incident because he’s obsessed with the notion of fear. He tries to get into the mindset of the suicidal man in order to get a glimpse of true fear. He even goes as far as revisiting the subway where the grisly act was committed. Instead of getting a greater insight on his obsession, he ends up discovering a passageway to the underworld. In his excursion, he encounters numerous intriguing characters. First, there’s the crazy homeless man that introduces the notion of Deros (The robots in Richard Sharpe Shaver's A Warning to Future Man). As he plunges deeper into the underworld, Kuroki (the ghost of the man who killed himself) shows up to torment our poor protagonist. Finally, he makes his way to a ravine where the “underground dwellers” live. He comes across a cave where he finds a naked girl (Tomomi Miyashita) lying listlessly while chained to the wall. The screen goes black for a moment and then we’re back in Masuoka’s cluttered apartment. This time though, he’s not alone; the naked girl is somehow there as well. She doesn’t speak, eat or drink. Even more bizarre, she moves on all fours and has an appetite for blood. Masuoka calls her F and keeps her holed up in his apartment. She subsists on the carcasses of animals and the blood of Masuoka.

Watching “Marebito” is like being placed in a trance. There is no score throughout, instead what accompanies the film is a series of haunting moans and screeches that creates a chilling ambience. The film unfolds at hypnotic pace that almost makes it seem as if the viewer is sleepwalking with Masuoka. What exactly is going on is never fully explained, forcing the viewer to sift through the confusion to find a foothold on the byzantine narrative. To further complicate things, Masuoka is an unreliable narrator who is constantly contradicting himself. This is both the strength and weakness of the film. While the deliberate sense of ambiguity adds to the somnambulistic feel of the film, it does get exhausting and increasingly frustrating after awhile.

Cult director Shinya Tsukamoto is serviceable as the obsessive Masuoka but one wishes director Takashi Shimizu could have cast an actor with the acting chops to add another layer to the character. Tsukamoto’s plays Masuoka as a blank slate prone to fits of paranoia. To be fair, it’s probably the way the character was written but by making him such an enigma it’s hard to become invested in Masuoka and his outcome.

Ultimately, “Marebito” does a commendable job in scaring its audience. There are some genuine bone chilling moments in the film that would frighten any seasoned horror fan, but they are few and far between. Takashi Shimizu as a filmmaker shows that he understands the horror genre and has fun in tormenting the viewer. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down by its sometimes glacial pacing, meandering script and lazy ending.

Read more by David Lam at his blog

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