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Tetsuo: The Iron Man director Shinya Tsukamoto stars as Masuoka, a freelance cameraman with a lustful obsession with fear. He spends his life literally surrounded by cameras, recording his actions and the actions of the world around him. After filming a particularly grisly suicide in the city’s subway, and studying it incessantly, he realizes his quest to understand fear can only be quelled by seeing exactly what the suicidal sole saw at the moment of his death.

His search leads him into a chambered underground system of caverns beneath Tokyo’s deepest known subterranean tunnels. While scouting these tunnels, camera in hand of course, he finds himself surrounded by what may be ghosts, who warn him of cannibalistic, humanoid, underground dwellers, with an unquenchable thirst for blood. Nonplussed, he continues deeper into the abyss, and finds a malnourished, naked young woman, chained to the walls of the caverns. He decides to take the subterranean beauty back to his apartment, knowing that she well may be the key to his understanding of true fear.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re all a little tired of the scary ghost-girl, J-horror formula. This is why director Takashi Shimizu, who’s own Ju-On (which was remade twice) is a major contribution to the genre, would seem valiant in his attempt at bringing something new to the table. Marebito still utilizes similar atmospheric techniques, but the plot doesn’t concern any supernatural, eerily motioned, black-haired ghost girls, and its antagonist is really anything but a hero. Ok, I guess the CHUD girl is kind of supernatural, in that she has really abnormal teeth, and she does move in mysterious ways, but you see my point.

I wasn’t too hip on Shimizu’s claim to fame, Ju-On (I never saw the remakes or sequel), but did respect its fractured narrative, and its simplicity. Here the director tries a little too hard to apply existential meaning to matters, and this becomes the film’s greatest flaw. It comes across as thinking it’s wiser than it really is. Ironically, Marebito is very similar to star Tsukamoto’s own obsessive compulsive, existential crisis film, Bullet Ballet. Bullet Ballet succeeded mostly in its refusal to spell out anything for its audience. Marebito fails because it does the opposite, deflating the genuinely creepy and mysterious atmosphere with often irksome narration. This narration also gives away the film’s final twist before adding another layer to it, ultimately negating the final five minutes.

The storyline is a truly original twist on the standard vampire myth (and, to a lesser extent, a cerebral remake of Little Shop of Horrors), and I admit that I was intrigued by the premise, but unfortunately, the original and insidious elements of the film become muddled and busy. The plot is layered like an onion, but each discarded section of skin is lost in the peeling. When the truth was revealed I couldn't help but feel that the lead up was either far too congested, or missing an entire act. Regardless, it was as if the story was frustratingly out of balance. I understand, and appreciate, narrative nonsense, in horror films especially, but here it seemed as though Shimizu lost himself in frivolous psychobabble.

I didn't enjoy Marebito, but appreciated its craft and aspirations. From a strictly visual standpoint it is a cinema-verite mini-masterpiece, and the camera P.O.V. shots are genuinely chilling, so chilling, that I wish there'd been more of them. I also found Masuoka's vision of the real world fascinating. The all too brief sequence where he takes to the street to find faces digitally obscured through his real eyes, but not through the camera's viewfinder, is the kind of visually arresting scene that makes the rest of the film's inadequacy so frustrating. Tsukamoto as an actor is another major asset, and though this is the kind of role he basically plays in every movie he's ever been involved with, (including his own) he is not any less riveting for it.


I almost have to refuse to critically review the video quality of this, or any release of Marebito, simply due to the film's visual nature. The film is shot all digital, though various cameras of various picture quality, none of which come anywhere close to that of the high end HD cameras used in major productions like Revenge of the Sith. There is edge enhancement and discolouration to all the objective shots, and a pixelated, dark graininess to the objective handheld video shots. Tartan has, for its part, has reproduced the film in as high a calibre as possible. The anamorphic, 1.78:1 widescreen frame is serviceable, but of course, not the finest example of the medium's capabilities.



Marebito is presented in dual tracks, a Dolby Digital 5.1 one, and a slightly more punchy DTS one. Neither track is overtly aggressive, but ambiance is pretty thick and the surround effects work pretty well. For the most part, the film is pretty low-tech on the audio front, which is fair given the film's intimate structure and matching low-tech video. Music cues are sometimes too rich and mechanical, and they can overpower the sort of organic beauty of the rest of the soundtrack. The sounds of the CHUD girl's blood slurping is effectively gross, but usually turns comical pretty quickly, undermining some of the film's impact. Like the video quality, the audio quality is really dictated by the source material, and this DVD cannot be faulted to heavily for mistakes made by the filmmakers themselves.


Tartan gives it another college try, but comes up a little short in the extras department. The greatest DVD extras are the one's a fan will be as happy to revisit as the film. The story behind the film, namely its fast turnaround, is interesting, but there has to be a better way of telling the tale then simply listening to the director's poorly cropped talking head. Shimizu comes across as either bored or incredibly shy, and in any case, doesn't appear to be thrilled at the prospect of being interviewed.

Tsukamoto's interview is slightly better, mostly because it's shorter in length, but also because Tsukamoto happens to be a more charismatic person. Unlike Shimizu, he's happy to talk about the film (and actually appears to be flirting with the interviewer a bit), along with his own work. Another case of a perfectly pleasant man who happens to make perfectly twisted films.

The disc is finished off with some trailers for this and other Tartan Asia Extreme titles.



Marebito is a very respectable attempt at bringing something new to Asian horror. It's only about half successful, due to a muddled plot that is more daft than enigmatic. The scare factor is pretty weak, but the objective video camera shots do have an eerie nature. Those more intrigued by the J-horror ‘genre’ should give it a look expecting the narrative to shoot itself in the foot a few times.