In writing about Takashi Miike’s Imprint on the Bright Lights Film Journal blog, contributor C. Jerry Kutner wonders: “So, once again, we have to ask, are we looking at a sadistic exploitation of women? An empathetic critique of that exploitation? (As it was apparently meant to be.) Or both?” I’m tempted to say neither except proof for the latter emerges by film’s end. Imprint exudes a strange ambivalence for much of its running time, which is odd given Miike’s typically uncanny ability to spike his elaborate spectacles of violence with very upfront social insight. The man does not mess around, but here he beats around the bush. Everything you’ve heard about this Masters of Horror episode, which was too violent for Showtime to air on cable television, is true, though I imagine some of its carnivalesque gore may even come as a shock to Miike cultists. This one-hour freak-out is not without precedent: Kutner points out that the relationship between a journalist (an embarrassing Billy Drago) and the former flame he looks to find in Meiji-era Japan brings to mind Madame Bovary, and that the cut on the face of Youki Kudoh’s prostitute is a possible homage to The Man Who Laughs, but the striking visual palette and duplicity of many scenes complements Miike’s contribution to the omnibus film Three…Extremes. Body horror is piled atop more body horror, none of it with much consequence unless you take the whole thing as an illustration of how horrible life must have been for women during this time period, though some of the set pieces are resonant of the Kudoh character’s struggle to reconcile her double identities. She is a creature whose essential goodness is ravaged by the badness branded onto her consciousness by her country’s collective past. A better question to ask might be whether this is Miike’s response to Memoris of a Geisha.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.