So I went and looked, and it's that film that Shimizu Takashi did after doing the English language remake of his breakout hit The Grudge (Ju-On) and so I picked up a copy of Marebito because I'd liked The Grudge, and I watched it and... this is the sort of film that has me knitting my brows and taking in a deep breath through my teeth when you ask me what I think of it.
Note that nudity in one of the screenshots below makes this post NSFW.
|Filmmaker playing filmmaker.|
Meet Masuoka, a fortysomething news cameraman, a freelancer. He's a bit creepy, a bit intense. He records everything, spies on his neighbours. He wants to know why people are scared. Right from the beginning, you know his interests aren't healthy. He is a creepy man.
Sometimes casting matters more than in other films. Here, it really matters because Masuoka is played by Tsukamoto Shinya, who is himself a director, best known for the Tetsuo movies, which are body horror ur-texts. Having Tsukamoto in a movie feels like when David Cronenberg used to pop up in the occasional movie role: just like you don't cast Cronenberg unless you want to make a specific statement, if you cast Tsukamoto you're inviting the audience to expect certain dots to be joined. Especially when he's playing a creepy filmmaker.
Masuoka finds a luminescent underworld of bright caverns, and chained in a cave, he finds a naked young woman (Miyashita Tomomi).
Marebito's opening act shapes and frames the film. What might otherwise be a grim one-note exploitation horror or a fairly standard serial killer film becomes grounded in a sense of perverse distance. Part of that is that the majority of the first half hour takes place in Masuoka's cavelike flat, mediated through the viewfinder of his camera, or underground. In a film that takes on some of the same ideas like, say, The Land that Time Forgot, or one of the adaptations of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, or First Men in the Moon, you have a journey from a rational, everyday world to an otherworld, and the setup establishes our world as a real world we recognise. So the otherworld with its monsters and aliens and whatever is only extant in the context of the world we know. Marebito, on the other hand, goes pretty much directly down, down, down into older and older tunnels until it reaches an alien realm and then, with an inaudible pop, puts us right back on the surface, in the real world, or a world that we at least recognise, and that, rather than place the otherworld in the context of the everyday, puts the everyday world in the context of the otherworld. While a more traditional fantasy begins with the mundane, travels to the otherworld and ends with a journey home, Marebito seems to start with the otherworld, comes home, and ends with a final return to the depths.
Or at least that's one way you can read it. Because the way it's presented, he's there, and then he's in his flat with the silent girl, and you don't see anything in the middle. And that's sort of a convenient narrative shorthand; I think the default position is that you're supposed to just assume that he got her free somehow and took her up through the tunnels, and back home. But I don't think you are.
|Riveted to the cave wall.|
As Marebito progresses into its final act, that question raises itself, in the sense that Masuoka's experiences aren't "real". A woman follows him, and then confronts him, claiming to know him. He receives phone calls from a deep-voice caller who knows about the vampire girl in his flat. He glimpses the deros themselves, from far away, for the briefest of moments. Furoki comes back. And then Masuoka does some horrible things. But what's real anyway? A film like this has only the illusion of a wider world, and we would be well not to trust the largely spoken – spoken, spoken in voice over – narrative of a filmmaker played by a filmmaker.
Masuoka talks a great deal about "madness" in the final act, and of course, there's not really any such thing as madness, that's a construct that people without mental illnesses create to make sense of people with delusions. Masuoka isn't mad, he says, he's just trying to create a narrative for himself as if he were; but of course if you're delusional, you would protest hard against how "mad" you are. He's not mad, because no one is "mad" like they are in classic horror stories, but he clearly isn't healthy.
|Dental hygiene alert.|
And I suppose that this, framed with the myth of the deros, itself a narrative framing of a relatively common network of diagnosable delusions, is where the film stands or falls. Marebito garbles the details of the Shaver myth, but it nails the point of it, creating a metaphor for urban delusions and paranoia, in that it's not that Masuoka leaves the real world and comes back only to return to the depths, nor that he brings a horror from the underworld and then takes her back, but that in a number of narrativistically satisfying ways, he travels to the depths and never actually leaves.
It just takes him and us most of the film to realise it. He engages in a psychological descent, and when he finally confronts it, it consumes him.
|I usually leave out the subtitles but this was too perfect.|