Masters of Horror: Takashi Miike - Imprint Review
Written by: thegoldensimatar
Warning: Some content of review may offend readers. If you have not heard of Imprint till just now you should hang your head in shame and stop reading. There are mentions to some stuff that folks might not like and since I have warned you don't bugger me about it later on.
First off I should say I have not watched much Asian horror before viewing Imprint. Audition and R-Point are the only ones I have seen mostly due to the fact that my local movie rental store doesn't carry Asian horror unless it has been remade for American audiences. I will also try and keep this spoiler free.
Okay, enjoy: Late 1800s on an island off the coast of Japan inhabitied by whores an American named Christopher arrives looking for a girl he promised he would take her away with him to America when he returned. When he got there however, he finds from a slightly deformed prositute who has come to service him for the evening that his love Komomo commited suicide only a month or so before his arrival; stating she could not wait any longer. Shattered, Christopher begs the prositute to tell him what had happened. But, it is only the begining into a journey of madness...
Japanese director Takashi Miike is well known to many fans of the genre for his film Audition as well as other films like Ichi the Killer, the segment Box from The Three Extremes and One Missed Call. These names should be well known to many folks, especially Audition as it is characterized by the brutal last half hour or so of the film. His strange musical The Happiness of the Katakuris aside, when it was announced that Miike would participate in the Masters of Horror fans could not wait to see what sick and twisted creation awaited them.
With Masters the directors were given complete reign of their films and were allowed to do anything they could conjure. And with Miike, no exception. For his entry, he chose the novel Bokkee Kyoutee by Shimako Iwai (who also stars in the film, but I do not know what character). Miike also shot his episode in Japan and spare for American actor Billy Drago the whole cast is Japanese.
About midway through the first season's airing in North America, Showtime (who broadcast the show) announced that Takashi Miike's entry entitled Imprint would not air in the United States due to its graphic nature. Course that didn't sit well with anyone in the USA, yet it also gave way to intrigue of why it was banned. Word came out it was due to aborted featuses and other such graphic displays. The show's creator Mick Garris stated after viewing it was one of the most distubring things he had ever seen. And fans were eager to find out more about Miike's film and of course scratch their heads going 'Its Miike....what did everyone expect?' Despite not being aired in USA, Imprint was aired in Europe and word got back of how good and freaky it was.
My friends...I tell you now that Imprint lives up to the hype and then some. The film opens at night, mist hangs low over the water and the grasses and there is an eerie blue glow. Between two groups of grasses there is a black object and sevearl lights. Aboard the tiny boat are several grinning men and one sitting quietly, they are discussing of how much they are looking forward. But this all stops when the boat strikes something, everyone jumps and the quiet man stirs. They star into the water to see the pale body of a dead prositute, the boat pilot roughly shoves the corpse with his pole and the body turns over to see a swollen belly of a pregnat woman. Christopher is the quiet man and its his first glimpse of the horrors to come.
The obvious possible handicap for Masters of just an hour doesn't seem to effect the directors and Miike is no exception. He handles everything beautifully, the story movies smoothly along and there isn't any spot that seems to drag it down too much. The one hour time frame doesn't rob the story of any power or enjoyment and unless you are staring at the player counting off the seconds it feels less like a sixty minute film and more like a full feature length movie. Miike also shows the ablity to mix the subtle with the completely brutal and grotesque. As Christopher sits in his room talking with the prositute (credited as "Woman", we never learn her name in the film) there are strange images behind each of them throughout various points in the story that at made me wonder if they were alone in the room and gave me small chills up my spine. There are also small things such as little handheld windmills being completely still before staring to move when a character moves near them. Much of Miike's subtly is very subtle compared to what got the film banned from airing in the USA and some of it unless you are paying complete attention to the whole of the screen you could miss them.
Now, the brutal/grotesque. I will not go into very much detail right now, the chunk of it will be in the effects section of the review. But, let me takle the fetus question and get that out of the way. Throughout the movie there are sevearl shot of aborted fetuses and one abortion. During Imprint you do see several fetuses, yet there is only one or two scenes throughout the whole of the film where the fetus dominates the screen, instead most of the time you do see it, yet it makes up only a small part of the screen. The abortion itself is shot perfectly, the actual act is done below the frame while the character expressions and movements in frame and sounds mix to give you a painful image of what is happening below.
The other scene that gave me the most freak out was the "needle" scene where one of the prositutes is tortured with various burning instruments but it goes to another level when the sewing needles are pulled out. Most directors probably would have shown the needle starting to go under the fingernails before changing to character reactions and screams and squishy noises. Miike instead shows you it all in a well lit room, the plunge, blood, the screams, the whole nine yards. He puts it right in front of you and the finger is object of attention as the needle is slowly put into the flesh. It was this scene that had me jumping and giving me a feeling I had to take a shower afteward.
Now, there have been complaints among those who have viewed Imprint that it's real only flaw is that Miike shot the film in English and some of the Japanese actors have some trouble with some words. I really do not agree with that as actress Youki Kudoh (Woman, the prositute Chirstopher is with during the film) speaks flawlessly and doesn't make any errors. The same goes for Michie Ito who plays Christopher's love Komomo. Some of the other Japanese cast's accents do sometimes cause the distortion of a word, but it is not enough that you cannot understand what they are saying.
With the acting I was fairly impressed. Billy Drago has for much of his career been in primarily supporting roles, most notably as Fank Nitti in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables and more recently as Papa Jupiter in Alexandre Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes. In Imprint Drago is the male lead and does a pretty good job of it. He has a great changing of facial expressions during the film from his joy of seeing Komomo in a flashback to his complete breakdown as everything goes to hell. Drago is able to carry the scenes between him and Kudoh very effectivly and he doesn't seem like a weight.
Speaking of Youki Kudoh, she is in my opinion the better of the two. Mostly due to the fact she has more expressions and moods to go through the course of the movie. Kudoh plays the prositute beautifully, giving you a very pitiful sight of a deformed woman forced into this life and someone you do care about. And as the film goes on and gets to its climax, she is able to display subtle maliace like I have not seen in a whie in a movie. I would definatly be interested in seeing her in more movies. She was also in Memoirs of a Gesha as Pumpkin.
The other actors in the movie all do wonderfully. Michie Ito (Komomo) really only has one or two scenes beside the torture sequence. During her others, she has an air of sweetness and warmth about her in this cold and bitter setting of a brothel. The "Lady of the House" (could not make out actresses name in credits) is completely deranged look in her eyes in every scene that she is in and puts every "Creepy Old Lady" in a movie to shame.
Now, onto the effects. The first effect we see is the dead body of a prositute floating in the water off the island. Either this was an actress painted a pale white or a very detailed dummy (probably the first), its effect is not lost nor does it look fake. The most noticeable effect is that on Youki Kudoh's face during the movie. On the right side of her face, it appears the skin has been streached backwards across her skull. The effect is seamless and blends perfectly with the other side of her face. And for some reason she has blue hair, which looks very nice on her.
The torture scene, the previous burn marks on the armpits are great subtle makeup effects. They are not over the top blackened bits of skin but a red burn that doesn't bring you out of the movie. Well, when I finally worked up enough courage to watch the needle sections, its done great. Thats all I can say, I fully admit if you want to get under my skin in a horror movie, nail torture like ripping it out or needles under the nail....that gets to me more than vampires, werewolves, or zombies.
Now, to the contraversial fetuses. As I have said before they are not dominating the screen throughout the film. When one tumbles out of a bucket of blood, Miike doesn't zoom in tight to see it, instead he keeps it at a respectful distance, enough not to see it in full detail but tight enough for you to know what you are staring at and to make you twist. The only time a fetus really dominates the frame is at the end where it sits inside a bucket of gore. This is probably the scene that Showtime executives said "Imprint isn't going to air." It is very well detailed to where you can see the eyeballs behind the closed eyelids. Though I should say that its total screen time is a few seconds that seem like a minute and you mostly see its right side and its head and face while the left is buried in gore.
The music is the one part that for me is lacking a bit as well as some sound effects. Both blend well but it comes across as too much of the norm of sounding like ghostly winds going through hollow tubes or caves. Though there are a few points of very haunting strings. The sound of the actors and what is going on in their world however is crisp and clear and you can hear every bit of wetness in the gore scenes and pick up every bit of Drago's gravely voice.
Overall, I can see why Showtime refused to air Miike's film, yet the aborted fetuses didn't strike me as that appaling. With Pro-Life activists carrying massive signs with blown up images of aborted fetuses and more blown up pictures on sides of trucks when they protest in public areas; the aborted fetuses in Miike's movie, though grotesque doesn't add up with what goes on in real life. Also, the film is outright disturbing and very chilling. Miike is definatly a master.
Its a movie horror fans will gobble right up, getting back down to the nitty-gritty and the truly disturbing horror of old. Miike took full advantage of the ablitiy to do whatever he wanted and I congratulate him for that. Its a film that many modern day audiences would not like especially folks in high school and colllege as most of the horror films they have watched are poorly done remakes like The Fog and they cannot appreciate the classics of the genre.
Well, my review is finally done. I have see all of season one spare for Dance of the Dead, Hackel's Tale and The Fair Haired Child and I can say thus far Imprint definatly rivals Dante's Homecoming as my favorite episode from the first season. Takashi Miike definatly deserves the title as "Master of Horror".
Okay, that is it everyone. tgs over and out.