Written by: jmh314
The one thing about Asian Cinema that I find interesting is you never know what you are gonna get. Just when it seems that every Asian film begins to borrow some of it's premise from other films, a film comes along that is truly different than the rest. Such is the case with Takashi Shimizu's file Marebito. Most horror fans know Shimizu's famous series Ju-on aka The Grudge, but I think Marebito is on a level above this series. While Ju-on may be seen as the one of the original greats in Asian horror, I think Marebito is the type of film that should be recognized to take Asian horror to the next level.
Marebito's story is quite simple yet makes a viewer really think. Our main character Masuoka is a free-lance camera man who spends more time filming the world around him than working. He walks around everywhere he goes with his camera rolling, filming the people in the world around him. He becomes fascinated with the aspect of the human emotion "fear" that he capture on tape. He said he has filmed ghosts and UFOs and other strange phenomenons, but those dont interest him the way human fear does. The way Masuoka puts it about people who see fear is that "they didn't see something that terrified them. They saw something because they were terrified." He wants to know what it's like to feel this true fear and experience what he has seen others experience. This is something he feels may be truely unexplainable.
His quest to find the meaning of fear leads him back to a gory suicide he captured on film while in the subway one day. He witnessed a man commit suicide and reviews the footage over and over. He noticed the man has pure fear in his eyes. Not the fear of dying, but the fear of something real. The man's eyes in the subway were affixed on something that Masuoka cannot see, so he heads back to the subway to find what this man saw that truely he was truly terrified of.
Upon his search, Masuoka finds himself back at the subway, but heading further underground. He finds a hidden door, which in turn leads to a large set of stairs underground, which leads deeper to an underground tunnel system. The tunnels appear to be some sort of underground world, to which he had only heard legends of. Upon his search underground, he runs into Kuroki. Kuroki is the name of the man who he saw commit suicide. Kuroki, who may or may not be a ghost, explains to Masuoka that the underground are controlled by the DERO's which stands for Detrimental Robots. The DEROs feed on the blood of others and rule the underground world with reckless abandon.
After his encounter with Kuroki and learning of the DEROs, Masuoka searches deeper in the tunnel only to find a naked girl chained in a cave. Masuoka takes this girl and brings her home with him. He leaves her under video surveillence at all times and studies her. He tries to help her develop human traits, but to with no success. She walks on all fours, has sharp pointy teeth, doesnt eat or drink anything, and has no vocal abilities. All of Masuoka's time is spent studying her. He can even watch her while at work as his cameras feed directly into his cell phone. But soon while he is away he notices that this strange girl who he calls "F" is communicating with something and watching something. What true mysteries will this girl F lead him to? Will she lead him to his ultimate goal of learning the true meaning of fear, or will she die before he can discover the true mysteries behind her and her world. Masuoka will flip his world upside down to discover the truth by any means necessary.
This film truly amazes me in how Takashi Shimizu presents it. It was filmed in only 8 days between the productions of Ju-on and it's American counterpart The Grudge. A large majority of the film is shown with what appears to be a digital camcorder, as we view the world through Masuoka's camera lens. I love this effect as it feels like a majority of this is happening to the viewer themselves. It also helps produce a more realistic feel to the settings. While viewing some of the tunnels that Masuoka explores through his camera footage, I almost got a personal sense of being enclosed in this area. I felt as if I was there surrounded by the darkness of this strange world. Some of the camera work Shimizu uses adds to the effect of the film as well. Things often flicker on and off the screen and make you wonder what is real and what is a figment of the camera's recordings. Sometimes distinguishing between fiction and reality was tough and kept me guessing as to where Masuoka's journey would take him.
The acting was pretty good as Masuoka was played by cult film director Shinya Tsukamoto, whom most people may know for Directing the film Tetsuo. He plays the part wonderfully as his character comes off as an average citizen who is overly fascinated with an unexplained phenomenon. As his discoveries get closer, his personality changes, but he still is able to keep the mood that Masuoka's emotions have not been effected. He may act like a different person, but he doesnt give you the sense that he feels these changes in himself. The strange "F" is played by the lovely Tomomi Miyashita. At times her character is quite striking and other times she comes of as nothing more than a strange unknown monster. Without ever having to say a word Tomomi is able to give "F" depth and make you feel bad that she cannot change from being the unknown creature she is meant to be.
This film is one of the more intriguing Asian horror films I have ever seen. You really have to think and submerge yourself into the character of Masuoka to truly understand what he is going through. The camera work and cinematography are done in a unique way and the use of camcorders often makes you feel like this experience is actually happening to you. The only thing I think holding this film back is it's lack of explanation of this underground world ran by the DEROs. I would have loved to have had more information on this world and these creatures. Instead it leads the viewer away from this story and focuses on Masuokas pursuit of learning about the emotion of true fear and whether F can help lead him in attaining this feeling or not. However, Takashi Shimizu still creates a story that may leave you thinking for a long time. If such a provacative film was created in only 8 days, I wonder what Shimizu could have accomplished on a full filming schedule. That may have ultimately made the difference between a great film and a masterpiece.