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Marebito (2004) is a DV film, made in the span of just over a week, part of a string of commissioned films by established film makers and newbies. Marebito's director, Takashi Shimizu, belongs in the category of the former. Shimizu is a Japanese horror figurehead who's main claim to fame is 100 versions of Ju-on/The Grudge. Okay its more like six or seven, but that is still a hell of a lot.
Independent videographer Takayoshi Masuoka (director/actor/cult fave Shinya Tsukamoto, who can play an unhinged weirdo with ease) is a man obsessed with fear. Wandering the streets alone, recording with his camera, going back to review the tapes in his isolated apartment on a wall of video monitors and recording/dupe machines, Masuoka wants to capture something beyond terror, some kind of primordial fear human beings have lost a conscious connection to acknowledge- okay, so the film is a little shaky on that bit, suffice to say, he likes photographing freaky, violent stuff. After he videotapes man's subway suicide (via a nasty knife to the eye), Masuoka watches and footage and feels compelled to return to the scene and investigate the subway surroundings.
What Masuoka finds is a secret underworld of tunnels in the bowels of Tokyo where only the downtrodden homeless, the insane, and ghosts venture. There are long passageways leading to caves large enough to contain mountains and ruins of some ancient civilization. Chained in a small hollow he finds a naked, pale female creature (Tomomi Miyashita) with blue nails and yellow, fanged teeth. He takes her home with him, calls her ‟F,‟ and keeps tabs on her while he is away via camera relay that sends video to his cellphone.
Masuoka feels he is being followed, receives strange phone calls, and keeps bumping into a frantic woman who claims to know him. F sleeps most of the day, crawls around on all fours, is extremely docile, and turns away from eating food. She begins to get sick. He finds that F feeds on blood and soon turns to homicidal means to provide her with substance. But as the walls of his delusions crumble, Matsuoka is forced to reexamine what F actually is and what he has been doing.
Much of Marebito is told through Mauoka's P.O.V., frequent shifts to shots though his camera lens or the actual viewfinder vision. So, with him being a disturbed individual, you cannot be entirely sure if what you are seeing is the truth. Does he really go into an underground world with a ghost guide? Does he really pick up a creature and bring it back to the surface? The film makes it pretty clear that it isn't a simple matter of believing the images onscreen, that you are essentially getting a warped perspective. So, without giving too much away, as some reality creeps into Masuoka's psyche in the finale, we finally get a reveal into what is going on, where the truth lies, where his real fear stems from and why it isn't something he has to seek out.
Marebito gives a tip of the hat to some of the Hollow Earth mythology created by Richard Shaver. Shaver was one of the many science fiction zine contributors (UFO mags, conspiracy mags) during the 50's. Shaver claimed that there was a whole underworld civilization within the Earth, a population of cast off alien children, vampiric robots or Deros (F might be one), and machinery that caused human beings on the surface all of their torment. To the best of my memory, Shaver was an actual crackpot, a functional insane person, who wrote in his theories into the zines and the editors deciphered them into science fiction.
Marebito shows some stumbles inherent in most rushed budget productions. The story is a bit scant, though it clocks in at just over 80 mins, you could make the case for the movie working better as a one hour short film. With the lead character being an introvert, they take the easy route to get into Masuoka's head by giving him some voice over internal monologue moments, which seem a bit muddled and cryptic, almost like an afterthought. Still, the film is quite disturbing, with good atmosphere, and though a quickie production, Shimizu delivers some great sequences and imagery. The film does show that the world of DV film has some promise, especially in that it is a geat way for filmmakers to experiment.
The DVD: TARTAN
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. It is difficult to find much fault with the image. Appears technically fine with minimal compression, bug, and transfer issues. The source itself is an intentionally mixed affair, varying degrees of video, from sharp DV, to handycam, to a, sort of, viewfinder image. So, there are many instances where the film is rough looking, using the video medium to convey Masuoka's skewed vision of the world and obsession with the camera's eye view of things.
Sound: Japanese language DTS and 5.1 Surround, or 2.0 Stereo sound channels. Optional English or Spanish subtitles. Not much to dislike here. Though I won't go so far as to say they get the most of DTS, for the kind of production it is, quick, cheap, there is a good range of dynamics in the score and fx.
Extras: Slipcase.--- Original Theatrical Trailer, plus more Tartan release trailers. --- Interviews with director Takashi Shimizu (22:51), actor Shinya Tsukamoto (12:59), and producer Hiroshi Takahashi (16:30).
In terms of the information given in the interviews, you get a good deal of detail, be it Tsukamoto's thoughts on getting into the character and how he works with directors to Shimizu's first exposure to horror films, getting this project started, and the actress' preparation for her strange role. But, the interviews are technically sloppy. I assume in some attempt to reflect the films video look, the footage is lackluster, handheld, and largely one long take, which means no editing of awkward bits like the fact that the Tsukamoto interviewer runs out of questions four minutes in (which puzzles him since they set aside two hours for the interview) and Shimuzu needing to pause to get a drink and wet his dry throat.
Conclusion: Marebito is a nice little odd horror. Traditional, blood and guts, jump scare horror fans might be turned off by Marebito's more obtuse theme, but surreal horror lovers should enjoy it. Tartan does a good job with the DVD, good presentation, okay extras, making it worth a purchase if you are so inclined.