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Marebito: The Stranger From Afar
cast: Tsukamoto Shinya, Miyashita Tomomi, Nakahara Kazuhiro, and Ninagawa Miho

director: Shimizu Takashi

92 minutes (18) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 0 retail
[released 25 September]

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Shimizu Takashi's Ju On: The Grudge was a steady rolling procession of the unsettling and the uncanny, the unremitting activities of the unstoppable dead striking out maliciously at innocent trespassers. The success of the film and its remake has had buyers racing in with the chequebooks picking up everything with his name on it, but with Marebito: The Stranger From Afar the director has gone from The Grudge to 'the drudge' and my disappointment is such that I am most likely to accept this as the norm over the successful Ju On. There are clues as to what Shimizu Takashi might still be capable of but it is lost in a horribly misbegotten vehicle. Marebito is a cumbersome, leaden, low-budget slow death of a film.

Tsukamoto Shinya is Takyoshi Masuoka, a freelance cameraman who captures the suicide of a man, Arei Kuroki (Nakahara Kazuhiro) on the underground. On playback of the digital images he fascinates over the impression that the man is taking his own life out of a fear of something the others around him cannot see. Numerous rewinds lead eventually to an unnatural freeze-frame in which the dead man's pupils swing this time to the camera affixing on the watcher. Masuoka returns to the scene of the suicide glimpsing a presence slips through a door and down stairwells. Naked figures scurry away from him in the dark and Arei Kuroki turns up, living dead but conversational, spouting like a Fortean thesaurus on the subject of all nonsenses subterranean. He rabbits on about the hollow earth theory and a 'history foreseen' by Madame Blavatsky, of the history of the Deros, vampiric 'demented robots', and the search for Agartha, the capital of the subterranean world. Alone again, he trudges deeper and enters the fantastic domain proper. But the astonishing underground landscape of hills and trees, strange in wrong and muted colours is not as interesting as the thing chained up in a nearby alcove: a slender, translucent and naked girl. (Sod the new world of wonder; it's a naked girl!) He takes her home, though we are not shown how, not only must he retrace his interminable steps when we had presumed him lost down there, but then he has to somehow traipse her through the streets unseen, and she is hardly pocket size for slipping away. For the sake of the film she is referred to only as F: (Myashita Tomomi). She refuses to eat or drink and it is only when Takyoshi cuts himself that she homes in on his blood, slurping at his injured finger. He finds her rats and cats to gorge on but it is human blood she yearns for. He kills for her, first a wife he has blanked out of his memory. There is too a missing daughter he will eventually admit to having also killed. Next victim is a schoolgirl out for sexual kicks. An unsatisfactory film slumps towards a suddenly startling and horrific conclusion, but if the director thinks that will save the film then he offends me, and a lot of others who have had to sit frustratingly through it for a single effective shock.

Shimizu is as possessed of that Japanese obsession for haunted technology as any of his fellow filmmakers and the tiresome digital point of view skins the early part of the film of interest. Digital cinematography is not conducive with decent visibility in the darkness and details are lost in the first third in particular. Oblique, miasmic, it is grind-core horror of the same stable as Driller Killer. Essentially, the film is a variation on the 'guinea pig' subgenre, but with the subjugation unwittingly on the man contrary to the apparent set-up, administered by him on the beautiful monster's behalf, ultimately mutilating himself for her. Like in the notorious series she is still a captured female but she is not human and no harm is done to her. She is simple and an animal, no more than a house-pet, loving her master as long as he feeds her. And he is willing to do anything for her. The film's one saving grace is Myashita Tomomi as F: I suspect a mime background, as in long takes her performance is expressive and detailed throughout. When he cuts his finger and she follows it, and is convincingly ravenous when allowed to feast. Beautiful and bloody, she is fantastic. Her actions are monstrous but excusable for reasons of survival. This is contrasted to his motives, which are appalling, the result of madness the severity of which we are only gradually become of. She is the glitter in this tar. She is not enough.

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