Friday, June 15, 2012
Movie Appraisal: Marebito (稀人) (Stranger From Afar) (2004)
This movie is very open to interpretation, almost any kind of interpretation. I could easily call this movie horror, but there are very few horrific bits. I could call it supernatural horror, it definitely has elements of that, but it never really feels supernatural or anything but ordinary. Mostly I think this is a psychological film, one that delves into the mind of a man who wishes that he could see terrifying things, wishes he could experience those things that cannot be experienced, wishes he could experience the same fear that takes the life of some... but instead he falls to he emotionless world.
I think the movie is intelligent and well put together. This is the kind of movie that any interpretation could be correct, and I feel certain that my interpretation probably has elements of both being correct and being way off. It comes down to the interesting story of a man searching for fear, hallucinating or desiring himself to hallucinate so much that he hallucinates in his mind at the very least. He murders, kills, bleeds dry, and emotionally abuses his way to finding the terror he had so longed for. His "daughter," F, is probably the biggest question mark in the movie, and I have to admit that even I have a question in my mind as to whether she was his daughter or a figment of the daughter, a memory, an interpretation, or the physical daughter. I have to wonder whether he had an incestuous relationship with her because all signs point to yes. I also have to wonder if the people he murdered within the movie: his wife, the high school girl... if they really were killed or if that was all in his mind too.
So, there are a lot of variables to look at when interpreting. I do feel pretty confident about how most of the movie probably took place in reality and his own demented mind wanted to see demons or "Deros" ("detrimental robots" from Richard Sharpe Shaver's novel A Warning to Future Man) where there was none. He throws away his Prozac at the beginning of the film. This presumably leads to all of his major problems throughout the film.
So, enough about the plot. The interpretations can go off in different places, and I like to keep an open mind about them. The characters, mostly F (played by Tomomi Miyashita) and Masuoka (played superbly by Shinya Tsukamoto), are acted incredibly with the parts being both believable and sometimes hard to watch. The act of F sucking on her father for his blood is horrifying to say the least... hell, even if he isn't her father it's horrifying. Nutritionally one cannot subsist on blood alone... so I have to wonder what the hell was going on. It wasn't about her not eating... and I think the blood is more metaphoric than real... well, unless he was feeding her blood and that was slowly killing her... which is awful, plainly awful, in its own right. F is incredibly sexualized without even actually being sexual. She's nude in some scenes of this movie, but she's so animalistic, so inhuman, that it's impossible to see her on the same level as another human... and at the same times she is human... it's Masuoka who's treating her like an animal. So, what we see in the movie is what he sees, what his interpretation of the situation is. Anyway, yes, the acting from both is incredible and visceral, hard to watch without denying the fact that it is entirely watchable.
It is a horror movie as well despite everything, but I didn't find it that scary. I never find these that scary. I liked some of the cinematography, especially the camera effects as Masuoka looks out upon the real world, how people's faces blur out or a film tear happens in the scenery. I like how the camera Masuoka holds seems to show him a much more realistic life than his own eyes do. There is a terrifying realization there as if the eyes cannot be trusted, only the film, an objective medium, can be trusted. It's a sobering issue, and one that could easily be talked about for a long time. I liked those effects, loved the descent down the stairs and into the "hollow earth" in the beginning of the film. I loved that being mirrored in the ending. I liked the chaining of F, how he finds her and how he eventually comes to the conclusion of chaining her as well. I like how much it feels like she is his prisoner and eventually he is hers. She has done nothing wrong, but he has changed her into a terrible thing, a monster without a name, a human without emotion, a person who is not. The last scene, as he realizes his great sin, the terror in his eyes is palpable and hearkens back to his "spirit guide" and the way he died, the suicide that started off the madness.
The move is very slow paced. Oh boy is it slow. It never moves fast, and it does become a bit of a chore to watch for a while. The beginning and the ending are both very interesting, but the middle bits are less so. This all creates a very unbalanced film, one that almost works against itself at times. Tsukamoto almost seems too good of an actor for the part, never breaking character certainly, but also never really growing as a character. The development is there, but it's incredibly subtle, almost nonexistent. Hell, in some ways Angel Heart has a similar character... similar ending too. I think this movie is handled much better than Angel Heart, but the sentiment remains. I like how F talks near the end of the movie, but her character doesn't truly develop either, more becoming the dominant one because Masuoka has descended into fear and sorrow rather than because she has become stronger. It's weird to say but I truly did find the acting a little too good for the story. I don't think I've ever said that before either. Weird.
The movie is also a bit jumbled. I found it interesting at times, but kind of boring at others. The slow pace didn't really help hold my attention very well. The movie was well done but a little overlong. It had an interesting premise, but simply felt too flat at times to be really amazing. Again, Possession works as a good comparison. There was a movie that had superb acting and a similar premise. It was slow paced as well, but never felt that way. There was always something happening and you could relate to the characters and feel terrified of or for them. Here in Marebito the characters feel too far removed, the subject matter doesn't seem to intersect exactly what happened... and unlike a true allegory, most of the things in Marebito seem too realistic, as if they really happened rather than being an allegory for child abuse or spousal abuse or the underground of Japan, et cetera. So, I guess that's why I would recommend this movie, but with those warnings. I enjoyed it, but found some bits rather lacking and some of it fairly dry. It's a nice film to watch and an intelligent one to boot, but it does have it's problems and seems like it was filmed fairly quickly and the symbolism is rather pushed into the story rather than subtly inserted. The example for this being his wife yelling about the daughter to him. I kind of rolled my eyes at that part because I figured that was going to be the case but didn't need it blatantly spelled out for me. But that's me. That's not everybody. And it is a good movie all around.
Masuoka wanted to feel the insanity. And this movie certainly brought insanity despite any complaints I have about it.