Takashi Miike's Masters Of Horror entry was the most famous episode of the first season not because of its merits but because it wasn't actually shown. Imprint, Miike's adaptation of Shimako Iwai's novel, was submitted to the powers that be over at Showtime where the series airs, and subsequently rejected. Thankfully, rather than release an edited version on TV, the producers instead opted to show the entry in its full strength version upon the DVD release through Anchor Bay. How does it hold up? Well, it's pretty strong stuff but there are a few flubs that keep this from being as good as it could have been.
A man named Christopher (Billy Drago) has returned to Japan after some years to retrieve Komomo (Michie Ito), the prostitute that he fell in love with the last time he was there. Unfortunately for him, shortly before he arrived to take her back to America with him, she killed herself. Christopher finds this out when he arrives at the brothel where he expected to find her and instead winds up spending the night with a disfigured prostitute (Youki Kudoh) who tells him the story of how and why Komomo died. As the two have some saki together and Christopher morns the loss of his beloved, her story becomes stranger and stranger and the line between the truth and some very devious lies fast becomes a very blurry one and soon it all spirals into madness.
Going into any more detail about the story would be a disservice to those who haven't seen it and it's tough to discuss the movie without revealing any major spoilers – let it suffice to say that Imprint is completely fucked up.
Those who were impressed by the visuals on display in Miike's entry for Three Extremes should enjoy the look of this film just as much. Like that short film, or like his better known Audition, this movie is very well shot with excellent camera work and set design. The color schemes are bright and even beautiful in spots and he truly makes the most out of the rural Japanese locations and settings that the story offers. In short, this film looks fantastic. Add to this the fact that there are some truly impressive (and depraved) set pieces in here such as Komomo's torture/interrogation scene wherein she has pins placed strategically into her skin albeit in places where she won't be damaged, and you've got a movie of fascinating contrast. Against all of this lovely scenery and beautiful color we see some truly horrific acts and there are very few taboos left untouched by the time the end credits start to crawl up the screen.
As interesting and well made as the movie is, however, it is definitely not without its flaws. First and foremost is the acting in the movie. Possibly because it was intended for an American cable audience the filmmaker's opted to shoot the movie in English despite the fact that, excepting Mr. Drago, the cast is pretty much entirely Japanese. There are times when the accents are pretty thick and difficult to understand and it would have made far more sense to simply shoot the movie in Japanese (obviously Drago's character would understand and speak it if he'd spent that much time there) and subtitle it. Speaking of Drago, unfortunately he's pretty awful here. He overacts throughout and while there are moments where he definitely looks the part, at times he's almost laughable – not a good quality for your male lead when you're trying to make a serious film and despite the injection of some very black humor throughout, this is a serious film.
Likewise, the decision to reveal the prostitutes condition the way it's unveiled in the film and the condition itself is definitely a stretch that blows whatever suspension of disbelief Miike's held over us for the first fifty minutes of the movie but it somehow suits the insanity of it all even if it does feel like something out of Henenlotter's Brain Damage. We've come to expect odd endings from Miike, one need only watch his Dead Or Alive trilogy for perfect examples of how he likes to throw it all back at us before finishing up.
Ultimately, however, Imprint is still very much worth your while if you're a fan of the series or a fan of Takashi Miike. There's no shortage of sadism or disturbing material in here, from the opening scenes where the men on the boat find a dead pregnant woman floating face down in the water to the ending where, well, it's not going to be spoiled here but let's just say the ending is pretty nuts. It sets out to shock us and it succeeds even managing to do so artistically and with some originality.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presents the movie in its original aspect ratio and for the most part, the image looks very good and the picture is quite sharp throughout. There is some edge enhancement present in a few scenes as well as some shimmering and aliasing in spots but there's very little to complain about otherwise. Black levels are strong and deep, there are no issues at all with print damage, dirt or debris on the picture and there's a very pleasing level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the picture (though some of the outdoor scenes, particularly those by the river, have some noticeable grain). Skin tones look lifelike and natural and the reds, particularly those used in the gore scenes and the scenes where the fetus' float in the water, are well defined without bleeding through.
Anchor Bay presents Imprint in your choice of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track or a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. Both mixes sound very good with plenty of lower end bass response and some very nice instances of channel separation throughout – particularly during the night club scenes. Dialogue is clean and clear and free of any hiss or distortion. There were a few spots on the 5.1 mix that could have been a little more aggressive in the rear channels (this isn't an overly aggressive mix though there are scenes that would have been more effective if there'd been some more intense surround activity) but otherwise things sound really good here especially during the last few minutes of the production. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitle options though English closed captioning is available for the feature only.
First up, as is par for the course with this series, is a commentary track this time courtesy of Chris D. (author of The Outlaw Masters Of Japanese Film and film critic) and Wyatt Doyle (film critic). While critical commentary tracks really do tend to be hit or miss, this one is very strong in that the two do an excellent job of examining not only the movie's strong points but its weaknesses as well. They honestly address the performances and the language issues and they don't sugar coat anything which is nice to hear. They also point out some interesting moments and small details throughout the movie that you might not catch on the first viewing, and cover various themes that run through the movie as they compare to some of Miike's other movies.
This time around, the rest of the extras are a little different. Rather than a series of shorter documentaries on the project, we get two longer pieces, the first of which is Imprinting, a fifty-minute documentary that shows us how Shimako Iwai's novel was turned into an hour long horror movie. Miike himself shows up here alongside Drago, Kudoh and Ito and through their comments we're treated to a pretty in-depth look at what went into making this project happen. Seeing as it was a joint effort between Japanese and American parties there was a little more to it than some of the other Masters Of Horror entries and going behind the scenes of it to find out what sort of difficulties arose and how they were handled actually makes for very interesting viewing.
I Am The Director of Love And Freedom is a forty-five minute interview with Takashi Miike which also serves as an interesting examination of some of his work. Miike speaks quite openly about his philosophies on filmmaking and adapting other people's stories into films. He talks about working with actors, how he feels about certain material and what it was like working on an entry for the Masters Of Horror series. Miike is a bit of an odd duck but he's definitely a sharp guy and hearing him explain things in his own words makes this interview well worth checking out regardless of whether or not you're new to his work or have been following his career for some time now.
The last featurette is entitled Imperfect Beauty and it's a twenty-five minute piece that explores some of the more notorious set pieces that are found in Imprint. We get a look at how some of the effects work was done and hear from a few people involved in making it happen. This is more technical than the other two featurettes but it's a welcome addition as those who are interested in the 'how did they do that' aspect of moviemaking will take a fair bit away from this piece.
Rounding out the extra features on this release are trailers for the first batch of Masters Of Horror episodes, a still gallery, a Takashi Miike text biography, in DVD-Rom format, the original screenplay and a screensaver. An odd looking trading card featuring an illustrated picture of Miike's head (with his sunglasses on, of course) is also included as is an insert with the chapter listing on it.
The most disturbing episode of the first season of Masters Of Horror, Takashi Miike's Imprint is an interesting and well made film with some memorable images and nasty set pieces. Drago's performance hurts the piece but it's still worth a look and Anchor Bay has once again done a fine job on the presentation and the supplements. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.