One of the more interesting products of the early-00’s J-Horror boom,
a twisted and consistently unpredictable depiction of psychosis,
vampirism and Lovecraftian dread.
Director Takashi Shimizu is best known for JU-ON/THE
GRUDGE, in its original Japanese TV movie, feature remake and
glitzy Hollywood versions, as well as the sequels to all three films.
MAREBITO: THE STRANGER FROM AFAR was a low budget affair, shot in just
eight days. It turned up in 2004, the same year as the Hollywood-ized
GRUDGE, and despite its raggedy construction is far and away the better
Masuoka is an unemployed TV cameraman. After recording
a terrified man committing suicide in a subway station, footage that is
broadcast on all the major news networks, Masuoka becomes obsessed with
finding out and documenting what it was that so terrified the guy.
Masuoka descends into the subway tunnels, camera in
hand. This leads him into a bleak subterranean region where Masuoka runs
into two men, one of whom, a bum, warns him of critters known as “Deros.”
The other man Masuoka meets is in fact the guy who committed suicide and
started Masuoka on his journey. Despite being dead the man is quite
talkative, and fills Masuoka in further on Deros, or Detrimental Robots,
beings that are believed to be fictional but in fact haunt the
underworld. Masuoka attempts to get more information out of the man but
he abruptly vanishes.
Descending further underground Masuoka enters a strange
realm of mountains and forbidding temples. Here he discovers a
chained-up naked woman.
Masuoka christens the woman “F” and takes her back to
his apartment. There she quickly withers away, refusing to eat or drink
anything. Masuoka receives a phone call from a deep voiced individual
who informs Masuoka that he knows who he is and what he’s up to--and
that he’s in “big trouble.”
Eventually Masuoka figures out F’s problem: she’s a
vampire, and feeds only on blood. This he dutifully provides in both
human and animal form. Inevitably, however, blood becomes increasingly
difficult to procure, leading Masuoka to adopt some unsavory practices:
he kills people and drains their blood, and comes to enjoy doing so a
bit too much. Plus he’s still got the Deros, who’ve made their way up
from the underworld, to worry about…
Unique though this film is, it reveals its influences
quite blatantly. PEEPING
TOM was an evident inspiration, as were THE COLLECTOR,
RAW MEAT and AT
THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (which is referenced in the dialogue). The
presence of cult filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto (of
and TOKYO FIST)
in the lead role furthers the sense of movie-mad homage.
Director Takashi Shimizu, utilizing handheld digital
camerawork, films in a quasi-documentary manner (notice the street
extras staring directly into the camera) that directly recalls
Tsukamoto’s films, yet MAREBITO also contains a highly fanciful,
non-showy aura that favors wide shots and dissolves. The mix works due
to Shimizu’s cinematic flair, and also the consistently intriguing
narrative, which confounds expectation at every turn.
Tsukamoto is quite strong in the type of twisted
everyman role in which he often casts himself in his own films. Another
standout performance is delivered by the gorgeous Tomomi Miyashita as
the vampire babe, who admittedly doesn’t have much to do but makes an
enormous impression nonetheless.
Adness K.K./AtEntertainment K.K.
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Producer: Mikihiko Hirata
Screenplay: Chiaki Konaka
(Based on a novel by Chiaki Konaka)
Cinematography: Tsukasa Tanabe
Editing: Masahiro Ugajin
Cast: Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita, Kazuhiro Nakahara, Miho
Ninagawa, Shun Sugata