[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 23 – Marebito (2004)

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomami Miyashita
Screenplay: Chiaki Konaka
92 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and some nudity.

J-horror is a bit of a blind spot in my horror fandom. I’ve seen a few films, really the big ones that have gotten American remakes or a few films from Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge, Flight 7500). Shimizu really is a master of J-horror, and I felt that this year I should dig a bit further into the world of J-horror, starting with more Shimizu, and I was recommended Marebito by a friend, so let’s dig right in.

Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto, Silence, Shin Godzilla) is a cameraman with a particular interest in fear after seeing and recording a man commit suicide right in front of him. This interest evolves into an obsession that leads Masuoka throughout the city before finding his search leading beneath the city itself into a series of catacombs, a labyrinth of tunnels and passages that will show him all the fear he can handle.

The original concept of Marebito is rather intriguing. Fear is an interesting topic, fear that drives people to do terrible things, and Masuoka’s obsession is believable, especially his use of a camera to document his curiosities. I really enjoyed the time spent underneath the city in the catacombs and tunnels of this unusual underworld. For me, the film became a bit flatter when he discovers the naked woman (Tomami Miyashita, Strawberry Shortcakes, Samurai Chicks) and brings her home. From there, the narrative feels a bit like something we’ve seen before, and I just lost interest in the back half of the film. It felt like a serious J-horror remake of Little Shop of Horrors.

What I really respect about Shimizu is his visionary curiosity. He asks a lot of questions and presents a lot of viewpoints, but he doesn’t always give his audience the answers. There are a lot of ways to view the events of Marebito as they play out on-screen, and I don’t think any of them are wrong. Shimizu asks us to look at Masuoka’s journey and see if what’s happening to him is real or a fabrication of his mentally fractured mind.

Marebito is a fascinating at the beginning before taking a less interesting route about halfway through. I would have liked to see the narrative focused more on exploring these catacombs and asking questions about life and death, humanity and inhumanity, using the catacombs as a narrative exploration rather than this mysterious woman. It’s just what my mind connected to while watching, and I was less impressed when the film took a more classical route, but Shimizu has a knack for disturbing imagery and a fascination with discomfort that suits the film nicely enough for a watch.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge, click here.

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