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An artist finds and rescues a mermaid in a sewer. He takes her home with him and she develops sores all over her body that begin to pustulate and bleed. He uses what oozes from her sores to paint her portrait. When he can no longer handle it anymore he breaks down and dismembers her body. Written by
Chris Mayo <email@example.com>
I have rarely seen a film that manages to be intensely disgusting and poetically beautiful at the same time. Despite the reputation of the Ginipiggu films, this wasn't the most intense gore I've ever seen... Fulci's "Paura nella città dei morti viventi" is more disturbing, if not more graphic, and certainly far more violent. Fulci's film doesn't come close to the visual poetry that "Mermaid" exhibits in places, nor does it delve into the places in the soul that this film did.
The basic story of "Mermaid": a Japanese artist has a penchant for lurking in a sewer near his home. We find out that this is because a beautiful mermaid lived in the river that once flowed where the sewer now sits. While skulking in the sewer one day, he finds the mermaid. She's been living in the darkness for decades, having become stranded when the city was built. The painter visits her repeatedly, and one day notices a horrible infection beginning on her abdomen. He realizes that she's gotten this infection from being trapped in the sewer for so long, and so he takes her home to care for her and paint her.
The mermaid is the embodiment of the painter's childhood dreams, his innocence, and his joy. The infection is the decay of his own being, his psyche itself. As the film progresses, so does the infection, slowly disfiguring the mermaid until she comes to resemble ground beef covered with tumors that ooze multi-colored pus and occasionally give rise to masses of worms. She won't die, though, until he finishes his painting of her. She does die (which is an obvious outcome from the early part of the film -- but not the *ending*), and she does so slowly, painfully, horribly, and very graphically. If the thought of a boil-covered, bleeding woman lying in a bathtub filled with her own blood (and other fluids) while vomiting up blood and worms seems unpalatable to you, do NOT watch this film. I could easily see some of the scenes inducing a reversal of peristalsis in many viewers. I've seen some intense horror flicks and some very "realistic" gore, but there were definitely some nauseating and difficult moments for me in "Mermaid".
There's also a scene wherein the mermaid has died and we see flowing paint obscure the paintings that the artist has rendered from his childhood memories as he dismembers her body, ostensibly for disposal. If I told any more, though, I'd be giving away the ending... and that wouldn't be fair.
If you've got the stomach for it, I would highly recommend this film. The acting is solid (the dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles), and the production values are quite good for a straight-to-video effort. This was a top ten seller in Japan for two months when it first came out, and with good reason. In many ways, this is a really excellent film, and it balances loathing and almost Poe-like horror with a certain inner beauty. I'm not generally a big fan of Japanese horror, but I haven't seen anything else that manages such a fine balancing act.
"Mermaid in a Manhole" is available in the US only through Unearthed Films. It's worth the effort and expense to get hold of a copy.
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