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In Tokyo, the freelance cameraman Takuyoshi Masuoka is obsessed investigating the fear sensation near death. When he photographs a man stabbing himself in the eye in the access to the subway, he seeks what the suicidal man might have seen to experiment the same sense of horror the man felt when he died. He finds a passage to the Tokyo underground where he meets a mysterious naked woman that does not speak, who he calls her F. He brings F to his place and he tries to feed her, until he discovers that she drinks blood. Masuika becomes a serial killer draining the blood of his victims to nurse F. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Thanks to his series of ghost stories, "Ju-on", Japanese director Takashi Shimizu has become one of the most recognized names of the New Wave of Asian horror cinema, the movement of young Asian directors that since the late 90s has produced some of the best and most original horror movies of the last years. The enormous success of his "Ju-on" series took Shimizu to the U.S., in order to direct a remake of the third installment of the series ("Ju-on: The Grudge"), named simply as "The Grudge"; but right before working on the remake, Shimizu took some days with fellow director Shinya Tsukamoto and a small crew to make a very low-budget horror movie, pretty much on the style he used to make when "Ju-on" was a straight to video release, but this time with a very different kind of story.
Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a freelance cameraman almost completely detached from the world and entirely focused on his preference for videotaping and doing camera-work. Onde day, he accidentally tapes the suicide of a man named Arei Furoki (Kazuhiro Nakahara) on a subway station. The strange characteristics of this event, makes Masuoka to be obsessed with the idea of a fear so powerful that only death can erase, so in an attempt to understand Furoki's fear he descends into the underground tunnels of Tokio, discovering the entrance to a bizarre cavern that seems like a passage to the underworld. Is in this caverns where he finds a naked girl (Tomoi Miyashita) chained to the wall. He unchains her and takes her to his apartment, but soon he discovers that this girl (whom he names "F") is not a normal person, and that her presence in his world will make a darker side of him to come out.
"Marebito" was written by Chiaki Konaka (better known as the writer of the famous anime, "Serial Experiments Lain"), and like most of his works, it is a dark psychological story with a slight cometary on the relationship between humans and the technology they produce. Narrated by Masuoka, the story is told from his perspective, so we are taken along him through his discovery of mysteries that should be better kept secret and the terrific consequences of his actions. It is very Lovecraftian in the sense that, like in the stories by H.P. Lovecraft, we have a main character who may not be entirely sane, and whom his curiosity takes him to the darker sides of human nature. His relationship with the strange girl "F", and his attempts to establish communication with her become the focal point of the plot of "Marebito", although like in other works by Konaka, reality is not always what it seems.
It seems that this "return to roots" was really beneficial for Takashi Shimizu, as the work he offers in "Marebito" is once again a very fresh and original horror movie that proves that there is more in this young director than the "Ju-on" series. By working again on a shoestring budget, Shimizu is able to capture the simple and monotone life of Masuoka, and with the use of digital video he mimics the world as his main character sees it: a world through the camera lens. While the movie moves at a very slow pace, it really is an improvement over the style of using disjointed story lines in "Ju-on", and never falls into the trap of being boring or repetitive (a common flaw of the "Ju-on" movies). However, a trait kept from "Ju-on", is Shimizu's skill to create ominous haunting atmospheres with common everyday objects, this time, the video screens and what's on them is the focus of the film.
Shinya Tsukamoto is better known as the director of the remarkable and influential films like "Tetsuo" (1989) and "Tokyo Fist" (1995), but here he offers his talents as an actor in a film where he plays the main character. While a very talented director, Tsukamoto is not really a great actor, and both he and Shimizu seem to be aware of that, so his portrait of Masuoka is conceived as a typical man with obsessive behavior, entering the unknown. The movie's highlight is Tomomi Miyashita, who gives life to the feral child "F", with a frighteningly believable performance that definitely gives the chills. Kazuhiro Nakahara, Miho Ninagawa and Shun Sugata appear in supporting roles, but their appearances are limited, as the movie focuses entirely on Masuoka and the consequences of his relationship with "F".
"Marebito" is an excellent example of how imagination and a good plot can make a film work even with the most limited resources. Of course, the movie suffers the most in the special effects department, with some of the visuals looking painfully amateurish (although probably that was the intention). The use of digital camera may be annoying to those expecting a good looking film, but instead of being a flaw, its use in the film gives the story a realistic tone, as if we were really watching a person's descent into madness. Some people have criticized the convoluted plot of Konaka's story, filled with many details and references that often make no sense or have twisted meanings in the movie; however, I find the storyline captivating because of that unpredictability, and the fact that Shimizu moves away from the ghost stories that have become typical of Asian horror is really refreshing.
With his "Ju-on" ghost stories, Takashi Shimizu became known worldwide as a major horror director, but personally I think that "Marebito" is the movie that truly reveals him as a horror author. It's not a movie destined to be a hit, but it's one that shows a different take on horror and while maybe "The Grudge" is the movie that most people relate to Shimizu, but personally, I think that "Marebito" is a much better and more satisfying movie. 8/10
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