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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mpd Psycho
Mpd Psycho
Ventura // Unrated // May 24, 2005
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Todd Brown | posted June 25, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie
The greatest strength of Japanese cult auteur Takashi Miike is his seemingly endless ability to transcend genre, to overcome his budgetary and physical limitations, and to produce films that are endlessly surprising. Just when you think you've got a handle on the man he comes up with something just a little bit different. His films are all instantly identifiable as Takashi Miike films but he is constantly pushing the envelope of just what a 'Miike film' actually is.

Such is the case with MPD Psycho, a six part miniseries Miike shot for Japanese television which is now being released on DVD in three volumes by Adness. Miike's tale of a detective suffering from split personality disorder in pursuit of a bizarre serial killer who cuts the top off his female victims' skulls and plants flowers in their brains works on at least three distinct levels.

On the surface is the general strangeness that will attract the Miike fans, the bloodletting and gore and the off kilter police procedural. The effects are quality though often obscured – more on that later – and the film has that distinctive Miike inventiveness in both the ideas and presentation playing in fits and starts often out of chronological order as befits a story about a man with a seriously fractured mind.

Go a level deeper and you have a surprisingly thoughtful psychological treatise on the nature of evil, on the conflicted nature of humanity and how evil can be a spreading, sociological event. In Kobayashi Yosuke and his fractured mind Miike has a character tailor made to illustrate the conflicting urges in all of us and he uses it to great effect and with a surprising degree of restraint. While the rest of the film is populated with undeniably strange events Miike obviously has a great deal of respect for this thematic core of his film.

Go another level down and you have a biting satire of both our media saturated society and that segment of society that would rather blame evil on the media rather than on our own nature. The film is hugely self referential in this respect – at one point a police chief is seen reading a manga title MPD Psycho and is asked how he can read such a thing – but Miike's eye is so clear and his aim so true that he consistently pulls these references off without sliding into self parody. Beyond the manga reading chief there is the man who trades in authentic crime footage, school girls positioning themselves in the frame of live news feeds so that they can call their friends and find out how they look on camera, and a general sense of media thrill seeking. On this end Miike is clearly poking fun at media culture but throw in a highly tech based killer cult that uses bar codes tattooed on their eyes as an identifying mark and transmits music via cell phone to brain wash their victims and you also get the sense that Miike may also be playing the other side, acknowledging that while people often go too far in their media fixation it can actually be a destructive force.

As strong as Miike's media satire is there is one aspect of it that needs mentioning as it will certainly anger fans that come to MPD Psycho looking for splatter based thrills a la Ichi the Killer. Japan has a handful of very strict censorship rules, a small list of things that can under no circumstances be shown on screen with genital nudity at the top of the list. When the naughty bits do appear on screen the offending parts are often pixilated or ghosted out, a fact that Miike has exploited to his stylistic advantage in the past in films such as Full Metal Yakuza and Rainy Dog. With MPD Psycho he takes that obvious form of censorship to an extreme level to register his obvious displeasure with those particular rules. He pixelates not only the nudity covered in the rules but also gore moments and some shots that I could find no potentially offensive elements in at all. His knock on the arbitrary and often misguided nature of Japanese censorship laws is a good point to make and one that he makes very well but viewers need to be aware going in that they are simply not going to see a great many of the effect and gore shots as Miike has obscured them. It is also worth noting again that, with a couple of obvious exceptions, these pixilated scenes are deliberate style choices made by Miike himself to make a point and not instances of external censorship himself. The vast majority of these things are there because he wanted them to be, not because he was forced to insert them.

The Video
One of Miike's greatest strengths is his ability to overcome budget and time limits by using inventive camera work and strong lighting to make his films appear much higher budget than they actually are and that strength is on full display here. MPD Psycho was shot fast and cheap and Miike has nonetheless managed to cram it full of stellar camera work bolstered by his now trademark color filters and distinctively unreal CG effects and overlays that help set his films in a world similar to but obviously distinct from out own. MPD Psycho was shot on digital video and has that curiously flat feel that DV often gives but in all other respects this is an impressive piece of visual film making and Adness has handled it well. The transfer is crisp and clean with good contrast and true blacks. As near as I can see where the image is limited the issues lie with the source quality and not the DVD transfer. The film is presented in a matted widescreen format. The image is presented in its proper ratio but this is not an anamorphic release.

The Sound
The film includes the original Japanese 2.0 soundtrack with optional English subtitles. The sound mix is good and the subtitle job is flawless – well timed, easy to read both in terms of color and physical placement and in terms of a solid translation that reads like regular speech. Solid all around.

The Extras
Sadly there aren't any to speak of, at least not on this volume. While I've heard that the final disc may include some bonus footage – including raw, untouched versions of the later-pixelated shots – all this one includes is a set of trailers for other Adness releases.

Final Thoughts
While it is difficult to say where the show is going and draw any final conclusions as to the end effect all indications are solid up until this point. MPD Psycho is a taut, complex, well written thriller with psychological horror undertones. The complex characters and layers of meaning guarantee that there is lots of material to work with throughout the entire run and the series is chock full of Miike's trademark visual flair. With its combination of police procedural and supernatural overtones comparisons to Twin Peaks are inevitable and while I would neither confuse Miike with Lynch nor say this quite reaches the same heights as Lynch's classic work it will absolutely have a great deal of appeal to those with a taste for the surreal imaginings of the subconscious mind.
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