4/10/05:

A very easy day today, with just one movie in the evening.

Films I saw today: Marebito



Marebito

Looking back at the blog entry I made soon after seeing this film, I find myself wishing I hadn't decided to write this diary, as I've already said pretty much everything that needs to be said about Marebito. Ah, well. I'll soldier on somehow.

I was interested in seeing this film because it was directed by Takashi Shimizu, the fellow who made Ju-on, a Japanese horror film which I found quite entertaining and disquieting. Also, Marebito (based on a novel by Chiaki Konaka, who also wrote the screenplay) is a horror film about a guy finding a demon girl underground and taking her home with him, and that kind of movie is pretty much irresistible to me. The problem is, Marebito is quite slow to develop; the dialogue and storyline is often pretentious and laughable; and the film as a whole is ultimately confusing and inconclusive. Even so, there are moments of cleverness and horror and beauty that perhaps make it worth watching.

FAIR WARNING: The following plot summary is loaded with spoilers.

As the film opens, we immediately learn that our main character, Masuoka (played by film director Shinya Tsukamoto), is a strange fellow who lives in his own strange world. His apartment is dark and full of monitors and cameras. He is always watching everything, watching the neighboring buildings, filming people on the streets. But what is he looking for? He tells us the answer soon enough: real, absolute terror. He's obsessed with finding it and experiencing it. One day he films a man in the subway stabbing himself in the eye, apparently so terrified of something he was seeing that he had to kill himself to make it go away. But what was he looking at? There didn't appear to be anything there. Masuoka decides that the man wasn't terrified by something he was seeing--he was seeing something because he was terrified.

Investigating further in the subway, our hero climbs into some kind of service passage and makes his way deeper and deeper underground. He meets a strange, seemingly telepathic homeless person who warns him of the DEROs, who live underground here and suck blood (we glimpse them occasionally throughout the movie--they look like really pale naked people with weird faces who run around all crouched over making creepy howling noises). According to the subtitles in this movie, DEROs stands for "detrimental robots." Yeah, pretty lame, huh? Almost as lame as what CHUD actually stands for. (This site suggests a different meaning for DEROs, however, that is just slightly less lame.) Anyway, eventually Masuoka becomes "sufficiently terrified to cross into the netherworld alive," as he puts it, and meets the ghost of the man whom he filmed stabbing himself to death. Masuoka has a nice, long, ridiculously corny discussion with this guy, where they each say lots of really unbelievable and silly things in deadly serious tones. Basically what the dead guy tells us is that myths and fiction have become prophecy and reality. Specifically, stories (written by folks like Richard Shaver and H. P. Lovecraft, among many others) about a vast underground world hidden underneath our own, excavated and inhabited by beings completely alien to us, are completely true. And we are in that world now.

Now, don't get me wrong--I think this is a cool idea, and I love Lovecraft. But Lovecraft at his best had the good sense to tell his stories from the point of view of a narrator who started out completely reasonable and raitional and scientific; someone who doesn't believe in any of that mystical crap, but who slowly is convinced by the incredible and awful things he sees, until finally--well past the point when we, as readers, have been convinced that the alien menace is real--even he comes to believe in it. In other words, Lovecraft had his characters at first mock the crazy ideas he was talking about, until those ideas, through the way the story was told, came to seem less crazy. But Shimizu starts us out with a narrator who is already off his rocker, and is already all too ready to believe in the terrible and the mystical. And he makes the mistake of discussing these mystical and ridiculous concepts with an absolute lack of any kind of skepticism or sense of humor.

Ultimately, Masuoka finds his way into a well-lit, wide open area covered in ancient ruins, and discovers a young woman, naked and chained to the wall in a small stone alcove. She has surprisingly sharp teeth, but otherwise looks like a normal human woman--though she does appear to be malnourished and ill. Naturally, Masuoka does what anybody would do in this situation: he unchains her and takes her home with him, keeping her there and raising her like a pet. (How exactly he finds his way home, back through all the labyrinthine passages and dark tunnels he's come through, is never explained.)

Masuoka has a new friend! Problem is, he can't figure out what to feed her. Some strange, deep-voiced entity calls him on the phone, apparently from the underground realm (you can tell because of the DEROs howling in the background. But what kind of phone is he calling on? A cell phone, I guess? But how does he get a good signal down there?), to warn him that the girl won't survive in the upper world. "You think you're saving her, but you're killing her." Desperate, Masuoka pleads with the voice to help him, but in vain.

But ultimately, purely by mistake, Masuoka finally figures out what it is that his girl needs to live: blood! The girl latches on to an open wound on Masuoka and starts sucking away like a champ. (Call me a perv or a goth or a sick vampire groupie or what have you, but I found the blood-sucking scenes in this film kind of...sexy.) Anyway, things get even crazier and more out of control from here on out. Some strange woman starts following Masuoka and finally confronts him, demanding that he do something about his missing daughter. Daughter?! First we heard about about a daughter. When he gets home he finds his girl missing. He searches for her desperately, without result. But when he finally comes back to his apartment, defeated, he finds that she's come back. He chains her up, just like he found her, so she can't get away anymore. Then he starts killing people and draining their blood to feed her, starting with the strange woman who's bugging him about his daughter. The movie starts to wander, and Masuoka ends up at the seaside, talking to the dead dude again for some reason. Then he drops a bomb on us: he says he's killed his wife and treated his daughter like an animal all in pursuit of terror and madness.

Woah. Okay, strange woman was his wife, demon girl is his daughter; CREEPY! But how does that work? What was real and what was fantasy? How did his daughter get like that in the first place? Has almost the entire film been a hallucination or a dream? The film has certainly been dream-like--or, perhaps more accurately, nightmarish--with a slow, haunting pace and odd surrealistic images and events. And the ending is no different. Masuoka returns to his demon girl (who has nearly starved in his absence), cuts the inside of his mouth, and lets her kiss the blood out of him. Then she films him with his camera as the two of them climb back down into the underground world. The final shot is of the both of them crouching in her stone alcove with the girl filming his face, which is finally full of the complete terror he's been seeking.

Ah, what a lovely happy ending!

Working my way through this plot summary, certain images and scenes from Marebito returned to my mind with great clarity and power, and I was moved by their beauty. The film succeeds quite well in creating a nightmarish atmosphere of horror and uncertainty. I find myself liking it a bit more now in hindsight. I'm also less annoyed by its refusal to explain clearly what really happened. What I wasn't prepared for when I saw Marebito is that it isn't that kind of film. It's not about what actually happened or didn't happen in some supposedly "real" world. It's about an interior world of dreams and myths and desires; it's about emotions and imagination; it's about fear.

It's also about being really pretentious and corny every once in a while. But it's worth a viewing.

My Poll Rating: Fair (looking back on it, I'd probably upgrade this to Good)

Epilogue

I came out of Marebito feeling creeped out and confused. I was glad to return to the real world, and go back home to my wife. But even more surreality and confusion awaits me tomorrow...

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Jim Genzano





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