Along with Kiyoshi Kurosawa (“Cure,” 1997, and “Pulse,” 2001) and Hideo Nakata (“Ring,” 1998, and “Dark Water,” 2002), Takashi Shimizu is one of the most popular J-Horror directors who got his start at the turn of the millennium. Though he is most well-known for “Ju-on: The Grudge” (2002), Shimizu’s other works are just as terrifying, especially his 2004 horror feature “Marebito.”
“Marebito,” loosely translated to “unique one” or “stranger from afar,” follows main character Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto), a freelance videographer, as he slowly degenerates into madness after finding a “Dero,” a creature whom he calls “F” (Tomomi Miyashita), in a labyrinth of secret tunnels beneath the surface of the city. I know that sounds literally insane, but let me clue you in on a little secret–it is.
Drawing ideas from Richard Sharpe Shaver’s theory “A Warning to Future Man,” which speculates the existence of underground cave cities where “detrimental robots”–Deros–live segregated from “Teros,” normal humans who live above ground, “Marebito” is definitely a weird watch. If you know anything about this theory (and if you don’t I highly recommend some Google searching), it’s no wonder it translates so strangely to the screen. It didn’t garner rave reviews from critics (it currently has a 40% on the Tomatometer), nor does it warrant screams from the audience in the way more popular horror movies do.
However, despite its negatives, “Marebito” also boasts some overwhelming positives. Despite the fact that I said it doesn’t really produce that “jump scare” effect, “Marebito” works in a different way (like much of Japanese horror). It sneaks into your veins and settles under your skin. It makes you feel…uneasy. Wrong.
One way that “Marebito” achieves this is through the cinematography, which seems to match Masuoka’s obsession with seeing, looking, and observing. Many of the clips he takes are presented in a “found footage” format, forcing the viewer to see what he sees through his camera lens and compelling them to identify with him on some level. As the film progresses and Masuoka’s camera breaks, it becomes apparent that he has changed from the looker to the lookee, and, by association, us along with him.
I can’t lie. I don’t really know if I recommend this movie. “Marebito” really shook me up for, like, literal days after I initially watched it. I just felt…watched. It’s also historically been kind of hard to find with English subtitles, but, as of when I’m posting this, it’s available for free with ads on Vudu.
All in all, if you like movies that really screw with your head and make you question every facet of human behavior, “Marebito” is the one for you–just don’t come running to me when you can’t fall asleep after watching it.
Filmnetic Grade: B+
Let us know what you think in the comments below if you dare to watch “Marebito” (2004)!