Japan 2004
Directed by Takashi Shimizu.

The ideas that underly MAREBITO are interesting, but the presentation makes us feel like we've all been here before, countless times. Whether its the video-camera point of view shots from BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or the sheer terror felt by victims of the RING, it is hard to find an original element of MAREBITO. "Do I have the courage to see that which the only escape from it is to kill myself?" So asks the protagonist, but not to worry, you won't have to do anything so drastic to escape from MAREBITO yourself.

MAREBITO is based on the writings of Richard Shaver, the "Hollow Earth" theorist whose "Shaver Mystery" thrilled readers of Amazing Stories in the 40's. The movie assumes an unsettling amount of familiarity with Shaver's work. For example, MAREBITO opens with some video footage of what looks like a "snuff" film, while our narrator muses about the look of terror on the victim's face. The scene comes out of nowhere and departs just as quickly. It makes more sense to know that Shaver wrote that he used to pick up telepathic records of torture sessions occurring deep within the earth.

Although Amazing Stories was simply using Shaver's theories to increase sales, it seems likely that Shaver himself was a complete nut-job who really believed what he was saying. An underground system of tunnels and caverns that lie under everything, populated by evil creatures, "Deros" or "Detrimental Robots", who want to destroy humanity, and "Teros", who don't so much. Part of the stories also describe us as coming from Lemuria, or Mu, or Atlantis, in the beginning, which is also alluded to in MAREBITO, though never fully articulated.

Other ideas taken from Shaver translate less well to film. The "Deros", for example, far from appearing truly evil, basically look like performance artists who scramble around on all fours wearing unitards.

The story of MAREBITO, though taking place in this Shaveresque landscape, keeps a simplistic story at its core: Freelance videographer Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto), curious to experience terror for himself, travels to the underground world, where he finds a naked vampire girl (Miyashita Tomomi) chained to a rock and takes her home, where he treats her as his pet.

Or does he? Is it all just in his own, twisted mind? Some less rigorous followers of Shavers theories allowed that, though the hollow Earth couldn't possibly exist in this reality, it may exist on a psychic plane. So it could be, none of this is real, or worse, the events depicted are somehow twisted versions of his reality, the vampire girl his own daughter. Shaver has claimed that these mental pictures he received made him mad, and made him homeless, and so Masuoka attempts both of these as well, all the while daydreaming of Atlantis.

But honestly, who cares? J-Horror "jumped the shark" several years back, and now seems the modern equivalent of Hong Kong kung fu movies after Bruce Lee: endlessly produced on the cheap to make a buck in foreign markets, with increasingly little distinction between them.

Director Takashi Shimizu's digital camerawork and approach to the material do nothing to help MAREBITO. In fact, the first twenty minutes or so are laughably bad. An endless voiceover narrates the entire film, which is almost always a sure indicator of a breakdown of cinematic language. It is Masuoka's inner dialogue, filled with pompous statements of philosophical absurdity. Upon his descent into the underground, he encounters a homeless man who tells him to beware and starts cackling. Masuoka backs away, thinking "He is definitely haunted by terror." MAREBITO improves considerably when he picks up the girl, whom he calls "F". Miyashita Tomomi, as the blood starved creature F, is easily the best thing about the film, her performance without a trace of irony. When she laps blood off of the floor is is disgusting, and erotic, and innocent, and disturbing, all at once. But the plot, which promised such rich mystery, by this point had become simply, "feed me."

Masuoka is a deeply weird individual, cut off from the mainstream of Japanese society, only able to truly comprehend it when viewing it through a lens or on a video screen. The increasing amount of "shut-ins" in Japanese society, the increasing amount of societal dropouts and TV and/or videogame addicts is something of a disturbing national trend. Also of interest is the inclusion of the Shaver mythos -- how familiar is the general audience with these theories? Nostradamus is huge in Japan, UFOs, Theosophy, belief in all sorts of strange phenomena, I would not be surprised to find Hollow Earthists going strong over there as well. To me, these two elements are the real terror: retreat from society, belief in complete nonsense. The former, by cutting the individual off from teachers and peers who might disprove such theories, gives the latter fertile ground in which to grow. And depending on what belief a person falls into in this state, a person may soon participate in the next Columbine, the next Sarin gas attack, the next who knows what atrocity. This is the true horror. MAREBITO is another in a long line of Japanese films that pokes around the edges of this fear (see for example, KAIRO (PULSE), KAMAKAZI GIRLS, SUICIDE CLUB) then retreats, finding no answers.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on June 10, 2006.


Yeah...asian horror is pretty bland, lately, and there's nothing too remarkable about this film....but holy f-ing shit...Miyashita has the most perfect boobs I've ever seen. I know that's totally lame, but come on....I mean, I wouldn't say it's worth watching just for her boobies...but, it's close.
Okay, I'm going to go watch Battle Royale or something. Back when Asian horror wasn't crappy.

Posted by: chris at June 20, 2006 05:57 AM
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