Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Marebito / The Stranger from Afar (2004)

"I'd go so far as to imitate a psychopath to record the terror of the victim on my retina and videotape."

-  Masuoka, Marebito

From Takashi Shimuzu, director of The Grudge, comes this weird little story about a numbed cameraman who is obsessed with understanding and recording pure fear. Even as the story begins, all is not well in Masuoka's world - living alone in an apartment crowded by TV screens and recording equipment, taking (and then not taking) Prozac and listlessly watching snuff in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the weapons-grade terror he's searching for, it's implied that we've entered the story at an unknown juncture of a colossal downward slope.

Things take a turn when Masuoka records a disturbing suicide on the Tokyo subway. Watching and re-watching the clip obsessively causes it to change in Masuoka's eyes - for a second, the suicide victim looks right into the lens, prompting a miniature headtrip in which he percieves a shadowy other world under the city, populated by skittering half-people. Venturing beneath the subway, he finds yawning Lovecraftian vistas (Richard Sharpe Shaver and At the Mountains of Madness are name-checked) and a beautiful, naked girl, whom he rescues from the underworld and brings back to his apartment.

Marebito ultimately turns into a strange brew of vampire romance, Chthonic fantasy and mind-of-a-madman narrative, all unfolding at a cool, unemotional pace that mirrors the narration of the detached Masuoka. It's hard to decide exactly what's happening on a first viewing, partly because there are several competing strands of confusion: Masuoka frequently states that he can only experience reality through a video camera (leading us to wonder whether the frequent changes from handheld to third-person viewpoint are significant), and characters who seem less crazy than him hint at a hidden backstory, which might offer a more rational explanation for what we're seeing.

I'm not sure Marebito even is a puzzle that can be deciphered by analysing scenes to filter out what's real and what's Masuoka.While the tone is completely different, it's an American Psycho-esque meeting of internal and external experience, underpinned by an oddly specific and obscure mythology (The Shaver Mysteries, which I'd never heard of before this but might hold a few more answers) and a monster-human love story that may or may not be a fantasy.

The most rational reading is that we're sharing the delusions of a psychotic as he ambles further and further from reality, but it could just be interpreted as an open-ended piece of surrealism about a man journeying deeper into his subconscious, complete with symbolic killings and beautiful monsters. Definitely more of a chin-stroker than a creeper-outer, Marebito's still got enough scary to watch it as a straight-up horror, but it demands interpretation rather than just viewing.

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