MAREBITO (2004) – The Dungeon Review!
Marebito piqued my interest due to its lead actor Shin’ya Tsukamoto. Tsukamoto is the director of Tetsuo, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer and A Snake of June, among other fascinating gems. Marebito came out in 2004 at the height of the new Japanese horror wave of long-black-haired, pale-faced ghost films. Like any overused horror trend there were a few good flicks and a bunch of copycats and miserable remakes. Speaking for myself I was losing enthusiasm for these ghostly offerings. Marebito was directed by Takashi Shimizu who also did the 2003 film Ju-On; a fairly decent entry from the sub-genre. I unfairly avoided Marebito when it showed up in the foreign section on the new release wall at my video store. I was pleasantly surprised by Marebito, which evidently is not a ghost story. It was grittier and stranger than I anticipated.
Masuoka is a freelance cameraman. On his way home from a documentary shoot he catches footage of a man committing suicide in the subway station. He watches the footage repetitively becoming obsessed with finding out why the man looked so terrified before he died. Masuoka ventures into the hidden world below the subway to find out. In the strange and surreal world he finds a naked woman chained up and brings her home. Not surprisingly issues quickly arise. The woman he names “F” refuses to eat or drink. She becomes deathly ill and Masuoka is at a loss until he inadvertently discovers she has a taste for blood.
It actually takes a goodly amount of runtime to establish the above basic plot points. Marebito is definitely a slow burn. I feel like I have said too much, but yet I haven’t really told you much at all. Marebito’s story is fairly convoluted. There are not clear-cut answers to every question. I don’t find these qualities a negative if I am drawn into the story and visuals. Drawn in I was! I found the narrative enthralling and I was fascinated by the world beneath the subway. I would have liked more exploration of this world. I was particularly intrigued by its alleged creatures; the Deros. The series of dark spooky tunnels, old buildings and beautiful natural landscape below the city are other-worldly. Dare I say almost Lovecraft-esque? The documentary-style filming added to the intensity quite effectively at times but I couldn’t help but ponder the potential of the subway scenes in a slicker presentation. Overall, I think the grittier look does suit the film. There is a minimal body count but there are a couple memorable scenes of violence worth noting.
I thought Shin’ya Tsukamoto was great as Masuoka. He displays just the right amount of emotion to keep you guessing. One epiphany about Masuoka’s character really took me by surprise! Tomomi Miyashita is also good as “F” doing the feral human thing; although she is more like a kitten that a lioness. There are a couple other minor characters but the vast majority of the film focuses on Musuoka and “F”.
There are definitely strange and dark ideas introduced in Marebito with a strong fantasy vibe. Marebito is open to interpretation and has an ambiguity that I found alluring but others might find frustrating. Ambiguious endings and those where everyone dies are the cat’s ass if you ask me! Personally I found Marebito a mesmerizing watch with interesting visuals, solid performances, a few surprises and some decent violence despite its low body count. Recommended!
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita, Kazuhiro Nakahara, Miho Ninagawa, Shun Sugata