I Want To Stay Sane Enough To Recognize The Terror: Marebito (2004)
I have seen many Tartan Asian Extreme releases, in most cases entirely predicated upon their being Korean films, which means that I will give them consideration for this fact alone. While about a third of the films are generally watchable, most prove a bit reductive, or exploitative in ways that neither push forward genre conventions or prove watchable even in a disconcerting manner. Even fewer suffer from the problem of wild mislabeling in their advertisement, or at least that was the case with Marebito, a film that sat on my "to view" shelf for ages because from the looks of its vague, torture porn/vampire cover it was something I would immediately hate upon popping it into my DVD player. Yet, in the case of this film, the DVD cover and vague description on the back do little to truly speak to the excellent work which presents itself on the film. An entirely digital film, Takashi Shimizu, manages to meld together various types of moving images, whether they be video recordings, television images or even the diegetic space of the film itself to consider what is seen by the human eye and, more interestingly, what presences beyond human perception can emerge when a new form of technology can achieve heightened senses. Doubling also as a narrative of descent into the labyrinth of madness, Marebito becomes a work so purposefully expressionist that it has a degree of landscape painting, at times indicative of the work of Caspar David Friedrich or the wonderful nightmarish spaces of a F.W. Murnau film, more so considering the twisting of the plot in ways that make Dr. Caligari seem like a straightforward story. Marebito, much like post-2000 J-horror films, challenges the conventions of horror, but does so while also undermining the entire under process of filmmaking in the process.
Marebito focuses on Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) a freelance cameraman who travels about the city of Tokyo chronicling items of interest, compounding them together, along with hours of surveillance footage to create a bizarre sort of viewing room in his house full of televisions and computer screens constantly streaming various imagery, both of a mundane and tragic nature. Perhaps one of the more unusual things in Masuoka's viewing is that of a woman staring out a window, of which he constantly talks to about her existence. However, when Masuoka uncovers footage of a man stabbing himself in the forehead, he becomes obsessed with the nature of his fear and curious as to what the man was starring at so intensely right before committing the act. When the image breaks free of its conventions and directly acknowledges Masuoka's looking, he becomes even more scared and begins a quest into the underworld of Tokyo to find answers. With his camera in tow, Masuoka discovers a world of underground dwellers known as Dero, who seem more like bestial vampires than humanoid figures. When he comes across the deceased form of the body he watched stab itself on screen, Masuoka's descent takes on new levels, particularly when he emerges from his descent into a new world of lush colors and dreary skylines, where he finds one of the presumed Deros, this time a female, chained to the wall naked. Confused, but curious, Masuoka takes the woman back to his apartment and begins keeping her as a pet, an act that quickly takes a dark turn, not only for its possession elements, but because the girl, who Masuoka names F, can only be nourished by being given blood to consume, finding particular enjoyment in human blood. This leads to Masuoka's life falling apart and his alienating, in some times very harmful ways, from the rest of the world, while also becoming aware of his own heightened perceptions after his descent into the darkness, leading to a sacrificial act on his part so grand that it causes him to assumedly plunge into the depths of the labyrinth completely and irreversibly.
To call Marebito a bizarre reconsideration of Plato's Allegory of the Cave would be a bit of a misnomer, even if Masuoka does represent a character bringing an understanding of "the light" to a group living in the shadows. Indeed, it is far more inclined to pull from the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, particularly since the narrative does have a winding maze like quality about it and the descent into the labyrinth is rather obvious. Masuoka, however, is far from the valiant figure of Theseus who manages to slay a minotaur and win the love of the girl. Instead, Masuoka is almost a hybrid of the two tales, a man questing a deeper understanding of perception by coming to face that which is truly frightening, hoping to share in the vision of the suicidal man, thus becoming hyper aware of the world that surround him. Masuoka certainly achieves this quest, but it is also at the cost of much of the world around him, clearly not the most healthy of individuals Masuoka shells himself up in his home, clearly malnourished and decidedly lacking in proper hygiene. It is not until his ability to sequester himself from the world around him is question, via his wife whose presence inexplicably emerges into the narrative that things truly take a turn. The Prozac popping Masuoka tosses away his pills, affording him a new awareness of his surroundings, realizing that even the most normal seeming of individuals are existing in a state of fractured self, one that is tied to the digital world in ways that are visible. The quickly maddening Masuoka also begins to pick up the creatures navigate the liminal space of the world both through the lens of his film camera, as well as in the shadows of the street, his psychosis, or perhaps his "transcendence" into darkness proving the necessary lens to capture the world in a new and decidedly troublesome way. This is only one element within all the other considerations at work in Marebito, including narratives of voyeurism, depression, the place of technology in modern Japan and relationships in a broad scale. It works on these levels brilliantly and jarringly.
Key Scene: The walking through the streets of Tokyo when Masuoka's perceptions begin to falter is haunting, in a way only digital filmmaking could invoke.
This DVD is pretty cheap on Amazon, but it might still be worth renting first, particularly since I am still uncertain as to whether or not this is actually a brilliant film.