Posts tagged reviews
(this review appeared originally on the Lovecraft eZine, May 23, 2013)
Directed by: Shimizu Takashi
Starring: Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomomi Miyashita
J-horror films rarely tread beyond their traditional revengeful ghost-children territory (or at least, the films that see release beyond Japan don’t) so it’s refreshing to come across Marebito, (loosely translates to The Stranger From Afar, apparently) which is undeniably weird, disturbingly perverse, and, though its treatment of the themes is heavy-handed and clumsy at times, definitely a Lovecraftian film.
This is a film set against a backdrop of holes, abysses, caverns: all the hollow places in the earth and in the human mind. Appropriately enough, it was filmed in the 8-day hole between director Shimizu Takashi’s two Juon (aka The Grudge) films. It’s a film about emptiness and the madness that results from contemplation of that emptiness: the things we do to distance ourselves from it or encounter it more deeply. Marebito’s protagonist Masuoka (a freelance professional cameraman), does both, often at the same time, using his always-to-hand video equipment as combination filter and microscope. He is a fully urbanized human, sheltered and fed (and feeding upon others) through the media that cocoons him.
As a story, it’s also full of holes: hard-to-parse gaps in the narrative that make it difficult to follow, character motivations that seem to come out of nowhere and are barely resolved before disappearing. Dropped hints. Suggestions of tunnels that could be travelled down but fade from the film’s memory in only minutes. This could be deliberate on Takashi’s part, an attempt to induce a paranoid dream-state in the audience, or it could be the result of the speed of filming. Chances are also good that this narrative disorientation is entirely a cultural thing: I admit I haven’t watched a lot of J-horror (outside of The Ring) so I am perhaps unfamiliar with some of the subtleties.
Our pill-popping and voyeuristic cameraman becomes obsessed with the look of horror that he captured in the face of a man who killed himself (in what we’re to understand is a sudden and gruesome fashion) in a subway tunnel. Why Masuoka was filming a suicide we’re left to guess, but it’s clear he’s not entirely well, mentally. In any case, his obsession with learning the fearful thing that drove the dead man to suicide leads Masuoka deep below Tokyo, down endless Escher-staircases, to a place he begins to call the netherworld. Along the way he encounters the ghost of the suicide and they engage in a philosophical discussion on such occult subjects as the Hollow Earth and crank favourite Richard Shaver’s DEROs (or Detrimental Robots). Masuoka shows the ghost the video of its own death, causing it to vanish.
Further descent brings him to a place he calls “Mountains of Madness” (using some clever but very low-budget matte photography effects, the actor appears to wander across unreal landscapes) where he encounters a thoroughly creepy, pale girl, chained by her ankles to the wall of a small grotto or oubliette. As singular, horrific images go, this is pretty unsettling stuff, which I assume is why it’s used in many of the promotional materials. Mute, catatonic, and more beast than human, Masuoka nevertheless decides to free the girl and return with her to the surface world, where he deposits her in his closet-apartment, a space jammed to the ceiling with surveillance and video equipment. The girl (who he calls F) folds herself into the smallest space she can find (under a futon) and falls asleep. Through the rest of the film, Masuoka monitors her via various linked cameras and his cell phone. Naturally, odd things begin to happen, both in the collected footage and in the increasingly fractured perception of Masuoka.
F begins to deteriorate, and her captor receives calls on his phone from artificial voices who advise that she is dying, that she should not have been brought to the surface. By accident, Masuoka learns that F can only tolerate blood as nourishment, and though animal blood will do, she really enjoys the human variety. If this listless, autistic creature is a vampire, then she is one of the weirdest ever in film. Masuoka, no less a monster, and already far removed from the normal human social spheres by his work and voyeuristic fetish, has little trouble taking the next logical steps in keeping his bizarre pet healthy.
One thing leads to another (even as the straight-ahead narrative gives way to greater and greater porosity) and by the end Masuoka becomes a classic Lovecraftian protagonist, consumed by his obsession and destroyed by the very knowledge he sought.
Visually, Marebito is ugly and flat looking, a fault due mostly to the cameras used. Flat, but also real as a result, and the home-made, voyeuristic feel of the film gives it a very disturbing vibe. I could imagine coming across this footage and being instantly alarmed by some of the contents.
Shinya Tsukamoto (as Masuoka) is sometimes clumsy in his emoting (there is a scene where F drinks blood from a cut on his finger and he is either trying hard not to laugh or is actually aroused; who can tell?) but overall he manages to depict a depressed, fetish-burdened man descending into horror and insanity fairly well. However, the over-use of internal monologue narration by Masuoka, although effective in the first quarter of the film, tends to become droning, soporific, and fails to capture the emotional tension as his madness descends upon him. Again, this might be a deliberate choice, but it was an off-note for me.
Tomomi Miyashita’s performance can only be described as intense. Her portrayal of the catatonic underworld vampire F has the severity and simplicity of Noh theatre: her postures and expressions, her bestial vocalizations, everything about her is thoroughly unpleasant and creepy. Whenever she was on-screen, a line from Lovecraft’s The Festival kept going through my mind…
Great holes are dug where earth’s pores ought to suffice,
and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl
And that was Marebito for me: an uneven, extremely porous and shifty narrative film experience that was at the same time (and perhaps for the same reasons) effectively dreamy and nightmarish. I’m not sure it would stand a second viewing (due to its cheapness and hole-y plot) but as a late-night venture into a part of horror culture I’m not over-exposed to, it was pretty good.
I’m primarily concerned with horror in my work, and as such I’m all too aware of how the genre can bog down in its own awfulness and become comfortable with the feelings it delivers. Which is why I appreciate it when writing that is not horror brings that emotion to the forefront. Even better if the horror is that of Self, of the shadow within. Enter NIRA/SUSSA…
With NIRA/SUSSA, author Julian Darius has created a Lolita for the 21st Century: brutal in its honesty and honest about its brutality. And make no mistake, this is a brutal piece of fiction, on a par with the work of Brett Easton Ellis or Nick Tosches at his noir-ish best. NIRA/SUSSA explores the DMZs and No Man’s Lands between writing and living, man and woman, sex and love, fiction and reality with skill, eloquence, and, at the end of the day, a helluva lotta nerve. There are only a few writers these days who dare to go to the places this book goes.
As with Ellis, there were moments where I had to stop reading Darius’ book: moments of fear, of shame, of clear-eyed appraisal of my own history. He goes places (within the narrative itself, and within the soul of man: within your own soul, if you are honest, and NIRA/SUSSA ensures that you will be by the time you reach the hinge of it) that make you recoil in disgust at the same time you are attracted. This is a book you lean into, horrified, like a spectacular car wreck that you crane to see more of, even though the seeing will scar you. This is Humbert-Humbert’s journey of exploitation and transcendence, transposed from mid-20th Century middle-America into the bleeding-edge realities of our current moral minefield, into the heart of the international pornocracy. This is lovely, dangerous Lolita with a black AmEx and a free pass to the Castle of Silling. This is the author, as narrator and as educator, asking the reader: well? What would you do, if there was no one to stop you?
Perhaps there are readers out there who would respond with “well, I wouldn’t do that!” but NIRA/SUSSA claims, and rightly so, I think, that they protest too much. The real horror of the book lies in the moment when it forces you to map your own proclivities, kinks, and hidden desires onto a larger stage. Does a club such as the one detailed here exist? Do such things happen? Do such things have the potential to happen, given enough money and power and prestige? Just how far do people go?
What would you do, how would you change yourself, and others, if there was no one to stop you?
It’s a really awful (in the original sense) question to ask, and it takes a lot to ask it, and not botch the asking (or the novel) in the attempt. Darius has succeeded here, to my mind, and I’d love to see NIRA/SUSSA get more exposure, though it’s the kind of book that will likely give the majority of readers digestive trouble.
NIRA/SUSSA deconstructs many things (social fabrics, moral boundaries, the writer/reader relationship, itself) and though it tidies up after itself a little towards the end, there are some messy parts to it that refuse easy resolution, some negligible holes in the plot, the odd off-note in characterization (would the narrator really find a hotel room with a pool to be as amazing as he does, all things considered?) and, in a narrative that is utterly believable most of the time, the occasional moment of “seriously?” (the narrator parading Nonette around town in restaurants despite an earlier concern about his employers finding out about their unconventional relationship)… but these moments are few and far between and do nothing to lessen the impact of this very daring novel.
NIRA/SUSSA is going to stick with me for a while, as much perhaps as Ellis’ American Psycho, Tosches’ In the Hand of Dante (which has similar things to say about writing and living truly), and of course Nabokov’s Lolita, to which this is a loving tribute and excellent companion piece. Recommended.
Here at MMP HQ, we expect certain things to be said about our authors and their work. Most of those expectations fall squarely in Hell’s half-acre, though. We expect to hear words like “twisted”, “perverted”, “horrific”, and, on occasion, even “hilarious”. Those terms are par for the course.
But “I found a human connection that captured my heart”? What? And for the work of Justine G, our resident weird pornographer? Double-whaaaat?
Yup. Guess we’ll just have to get used to hearing it.
Many times a series will open with a tremendous story and everything that follows feels like the creator is trying to recapture that original glory. I’m happy to say this is not one of those occasions.The Blackstone Erotic series started strong with Red Monolith Frenzy and the story keeps getting better. After reading Summonings and RMF I thought I knew what to expect from Green Fever Dream but the way Justine, Priestess of the Blackstone, developed as a character caught me totally off guard. I was genuinely thrilled to see this side of her that I didn’t know existed.There’s plenty of mind blowing freaky sex. Some is quite disturbing and some is just crazy hot. Amidst the less than wholesome magically enhanced activities, insane psycho-sexual encounters with demonic creatures, and cruelty perpetrated upon beings from this world and beyond, I found a human connection that captured my heart. Way to go Justine G. I’m totally hooked.