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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Masters of Horror: Imprint

How disturbing do you have to get to be turned away from Showtime's inconsistent but nevertheless entertaining series Masters of Horror? Takashi Miike's incredible short film Imprint proves that some things can be too brutal even for American cable television. Miike, of course, is used to having his work labeled "grotesque" and "disturbing." His film 2003 film Gozu famously nauseated its audiences, and his 1999 film Audition is the only film to ever make me physically ill. Miike is so revered and influential in the horror genre, Eli Roth featured him in a memorable guest role in Hostel , a movie that owes much of its imagery to Miike's work. While the promise of nausea hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement, it is all part of Miike's unique style, and it is central to the messages he tries to convey in his work. Imprint, like Audiion, juxtaposes the very beautiful with the very ugly, and parallels the tortures of guilt with, well, actual torture.

The story is very simple. Christopher, an American journalist, travels through mid-19th century Japan searching for a long lost love. Well, actually, it's a long lost whore, but she is the only woman he has ever loved and, as he sees it, his last shot at redemption. Many years ago, he promised to take her back to America. As the film begins, we see him travelling to a nefarious island of ill repute in the hopes of keeping that promise. The brothel on the island is inhabited by, we are told, whores and demons. He spends the night in the brothel, accompanied by a deformed whore with no name who tells him horrific tales about the fate of Komomo, his lost love. As the film progresses, we begin to discover that the demons we see are projected by Christopher himself, and that he is pretty much beyond any kind of redemption.

Imprint is an incredibly upsetting film that touches on every evil imaginable. In one short hour the audience is exposed to incest, rape, murder, torture, abortion, child molestation and spousal abuse. While this imagery might seem gratuitous, I found it to be a necessary device. After all, how can a man confront the evil inside him if he censors the evil? Although one could interpret the film as a criticism of exploitation of Japanese culture by American culture, I got the feeling that this film had little to do with cultures or nations. Rather is is about the true evil that exists in human nature. Imprint has a nightmarish and surreal quality, reminiscent of Rashomon and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It suffers somewhat from a dearth of Japanese: the film is shot entirely in English, in spite of the fact that only one cast member could actually speak english, and Miike himself only knows a few English words. As a result, some of the dialogue comes off as odd and stilted. The photography makes up for the script, however; I have not seen such a bold and symbolic use of color since The Last Emperor. This film is not for everybody. I found much of it hard to watch, and I am not a squeamish woman. However, if you are a fan of Miike's work, Imprint is not to be missed.

The amount of money I would pay to see this: $6


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