MARCH 8, 2009
It’s always a nice surprise to watch a J-Horror film and discover that it has nothing to do with vengeful ghosts and/or electronic devices. So even though Marebito (recommended by HMAD reader "becca") is ugly (because it was shot on DV) and muddled, I had a good time watching it, and more importantly, I never got the impression that I had already seen the same story told with a different item from Best Buy.
Even more surprising was that it was directed by Takashi Shimizu, who helmed the Ju-On (Grudge) films, which are among my least favorite of the entire sub-genre. In fact, Marebito was shot in about 8 days in between two of the Ju-Ons. It’s pretty ironic that a throwaway project made to kill time in between two other movies ended up being superior (in my opinion), but there you go. Maybe I should finally get around to watching What Lies Beneath.*
Of course, being a J-horror film, it does have a fair share of baffling plot development; primarily - the lack of a clear explanation for what happened to our protagonist. Did he really go into an underground city and find this girl? Or was it all in his head? Is the girl actually a vampire of some sort, or the result of him simply raising her as one? Was the guy on the phone real? If there’s a clear cut answer, I sure as hell didn’t catch it. And since the movie was ugly to look at, for once I was paying pretty close attention to the subtitles. I have a feeling that the film would work better on a 2nd viewing, but time does not allow for such things (I will be keeping the movie though, Blockbuster’s receipt claims it will only set me back $3.99. I can swing it.)
Also the movie sort of breaks one of my cardinal rules of horror movies, and that is placing the first appearance of the “monster” past the halfway mark. If your movie is only 90 minutes with credits, then the monster/killer/whatever should do its first thing before the 45 minute mark. Here, it’s around 52 and some change by the time we learn exactly what the “strange girl” is craving when it comes to nourishment. Sure, it’s a nice surprise, but it’s not only a tad too late, it’s also pretty clunky (the guy cuts his finger and like hours later he’s still bleeding all over the place?). If they are going to make us wait, it should be the most epic reveal in history. Like, I dunno, she smells the blood from his neighbor’s period or something.
What’s cool about the movie, however, is that for the first time I can recall in one of the J-horror films from the past 10 years or so, there is evidence that they are aware of other cultures. I can’t be certain, but the “underground city” that the guy investigates seems dropped in from a Lovecraft story, and that’s BEFORE he refers to it as “The Mountains of Madness”. He also refers to Deros, a reference to the work of Richard Shaver. Usually, for better or for worse, the only sort of literary (or pop culture in general) references I see in Eastern films are from their own country, so it was interesting to see it tackled in a rather subtle way. Since the US is so adaptation-oriented, I wonder how a Stephen King story or something would translate if done by someone like Shimizu or the Pang Brothers.
The DVD contains about 45 minutes’ worth of interviews with Shimizu, star Shinya Tsukamoto, and producer Hiroshi Takahashi. They should be edited down, but the rather half-assed presentation results in some unintentional hilarity. During Shimizu’s interview, the cameraman (who apparently has ADD, or ants in his pants) suddenly pans the camera to the window and zooms in, seemingly to white-balance the camera. There’s also a lot of murmuring (not subtitled) during all three interviews. Shinya even answers his questions too quickly and we sit and watch while the interviewer tries to come up with some other questions with the cameraman. I found this ironic, because today I was editing my own interviews with the cast and crew of the Last House remake, and was trying to find ways to edit around such moments. Apparently, I was putting too much effort into them, as no one will be paying to watch those. Luckily, the actual content is pretty interesting, particularly Shinya, who is also a director in his own right.
Like Bloody Reunion and The Host, it just goes to show you that the better films coming out of Japan, Korea, etc. are also the ones that sort of fly under the radar over here. And for all I know, maybe there’s actually a whole bunch of them and they just haven’t found US distribution (a problem that will likely be exacerbated now that Tartan has shut down). So, (*Robert Stack voice*) If you or anyone you know has any information about a wealth of J-horror movies that concern monsters or slashers instead of angry little girl ghosts, please call our toll-free hotline at 1-800-HorrorMovieADay’s recommendation thread.
What say you?
*What Lies Beneath was filmed with the same crew as Cast Away, while Tom Hanks lost (or gained, I forget the order) the weight necessary for the two different "eras" of the latter film. I've never seen Lies, but since Cast Away is one of my all time favorite movies, maybe I should.