Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, Takashi Shimizu’s Marebito, and Michael Haneke’s Caché form an interesting trifecta of voyeuristic, modern obsession and alienation, but after a promising start, Shimizu’s film—shot in eight days between production of Ju-On: The Grudge and its American remake—reveals itself to be the dog of the group. A hilarious dog, but a dog nonetheless. Obsessed with the ghoulish suicide of a man inside Tokyo’s subway, freelance cameraman Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) travels into the city’s underground, discovering blood-sucking, Gollum-like creatures called DEROs and homeless men along the way to the Mountains of Madness, where he finds a naked girl (Tomomi Miyashita) with bad teeth who he names F and takes back to his apartment. Masuoka’s perpetual voiceover, which revolves almost entirely around the hows and whys of “seeing” the strange world around him, has a way of painfully holding the audience’s hand (“Fear of the unknown compels me to open the door,” says Masuoka, at which point he, yes, opens the door), but the Lovecraftian journey the man makes into the post-WWII fantasy relic of Tokyo’s underground has a way of getting underneath the skin, thanks mostly to the grungy location setting and the propensity for lights going out without warning. Given Shimizu’s fixation with video imagery and the string of references to Japanese history and allusions to Kaspar Hauser, the stage appears to be set for a disquisition on technology as a portal into a country’s collective “unknown” past, but what begins as a smart J-horror update of Blowup quickly turns into a sick joke. Lacking Haneke’s intense aesthetic focus and Kurosawa’s philosophical sensitivity, a literal-minded Shimizu is unable to profoundly connect his theoretical points of reference, failing to see the visions Masuoka experiences throughout the film as anything else beyond a reflection of the man’s ostensible madness. Once you realize F is for fake, the film itself reveals its own theoretical phoniness.
Image is unattractive but remarkably loyal to the film's deliberately grainy DV roots, and audio comes in three options-if your system can handle it, you'll want to opt for the muscular DTS track, which gives the film's sinister sound work a major workout.
Theatrical for this and other Tartan Asia Extreme titles and interviews with director Takashi Shimizu, whose cine-horror inspirations are predictably run-of-the-mill, actor Shinya Tsukamoto, and Producer Hiroshi Takahashi.
I hold no grudge. Marebito is, for Takashi Shimizu, a step up from Ju-On, but it still doesn't hold a candle to any of the man's many influences, including Suspiria.