Marebito (2004)


(director: Takashi Shimizu; screenwriter: Chiaki Konaka; cinematographer: Tsukasa Tanabe; editor: Masahiro Ugajin; music: Toshiyuki Takine; cast: Shinya Tsukamoto (Masuoka), Tomomi Miyashita (F), Kazuhiro Nakahara (Arei Furoki), Miho Ninagawa (Aya Fukumoto), Shun Sugata (MIB); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Kenzo Horikoshi/Mikihiko Hirata/Yoichiro Onishi/Atsuko Ohno; Tartan Films; 2004-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“It drops names such as Madame Blavatsky for gravitas, but has as little to do with theosophy as a Westerner has to do with chopsticks.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

J-horror auteur Takashi Shimizu (“Ju-on: The Grudge”) helms this digitally shot low-budget indie with a grainy stylish look but slight horror story that’s more provocative than scary. It offers a fair amount of conceits, as it tries to get its leg up as a thoughtful diversion on such topics as urban loneliness, fear and madness. But it’s all nonsensical, a failed Lovecraft type of venture and a humorless trifle spewing on about terror without having a grip on itself as it drips blood all over the screen with its grotesque characterizations. It drops names such as Madame Blavatsky for gravitas, but has as little to do with theosophy as a Westerner has to do with chopsticks.

The middle-aged Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto, director of “Tetsuo”) is an inept freelance cameraman who lives in a small apartment filled with video screens. One day coming home from work after doing a documentary he films the brutal suicide of an older man named Arei Furoki (Kazuhiro Nakahara) in a Tokyo subway, and questions what terror the man saw to put a knife through his eye. The voyeuristic cameraman read Richard Shaver’s wild theories about underground people and to verify them goes exploring under the Tokyo subway system. He finds Shaver’s belief true that a population of mentally impaired sadists exists underground and are known as Dero–short for “detrimental robots,” robots who were not mechanical constructs but were robot-like due to their savage behavior.

Masuoka finds a joy to his miserable life in the secret world of tunnels and starts rapping with a chatty Furoki who may or may not be a ghost, a homeless hermit who is sitting covered up in a blanket and cringed in terror, a humanoid creature getting around on all fours, and a beautiful naked feral young woman (Tomomi Miyashita) chained to a wall and who can’t talk. Masuoka saves her from the underground by bringing her back to his pad but finds she will only be fed on blood, preferably human over animal. The spaced-out dude then says in a voice-over after cutting himself with a box-cutter “I liked it. I wanted to keep feeding her until she was satisfied. Even if it meant my own death.”

I found nothing much to my liking or anything that made me think I wasn’t watching something that wasn’t merely a tasteless joke that had gone completely off when it realized it had nothing to say.

Chiaki Konaka’s screenplay is inspired by a Richard Shaver story published in Amazing Stories magazine in the 1940s.