asian horror

Imprint [Masters of Horror] (2006)


Based on the short story Bokee, Kyotee by Shimako Iwai, Imprint is a dark, unnerving period piece revolving around the life of prostitutes during Japan’s Mejii era.  Ideologically sensitive and visually horrific, it is at times genuinely thought-provoking.  Director Takashi Miike doesn’t hold back in this one, giving you sick bastards torture, infanticide, incest and rape, all the while filming it against a beautifully feudal Japanese backdrop.  After last week’s somewhat lackluster installment, we at HH thought we’d go back and give our fans a look into one of Miike’s best.  Imprint will show you exactly why he is deserving of the eponymous “Masters of Horror.”


Sweaty’s Stats



The movie is about whores, so yeah.  Glorious titties abound.


Yes.  A fairly cringe-worthy torture scene will satisfy most gore hounds.  The makeup effects look phenomenal, as with most of Miike’s work.

Scare Factor

Medium to low.  More disturbing than scary.




Christopher, hilariously portrayed by Billy Drago, is an American whore-lover in Japan.  In search of his lost love, a prostitute named Komomo for whom he had promised to rescue from this sordid life, he cruises the brothels desperately looking for her.  Unable to find her, he chooses a girl for the night, asking for “the one in the back,” one with a face that says she probably comes a little cheaper on the menu.


Oh hey, she doesn’t look that ba-



Two-Face begins telling the sad but sweet tale of her life, how her father was sick and couldn’t support them, how her mother midwifed for the ladies of their meager village, and how ultimately she was forced into a life of prostitution out of financial desperation.  The story leads to her time in the whorehouse where she befriended Komomo, a girl so pretty, so generous, she utterly defines the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype.  We are told how the other girls were jealous of Komomo, because if American reality television has taught me anything, it’s that a house filled with women means: DRAMA.


“Bitches be crazy.”

Of course, remember that this is Asian cinema, and so instead of the slapflight you’d get on cable TV, the girls and their madam string Komomo up like an animal and ram sharp implements into her.  This scene is fantastically graphic.  Say what you want about Miike – the man knows how to convincingly portray torture.  Two-Face tells us that Komomo, heartbroken that her American stud didn’t ride in to save the day, hangs herself out of despair.

But Drago ain’t having any of that, no sir.  He refuses to believe her story and so next, we get a rendition of the whore’s tale, take two.  In this version, the dad is not sick – he’s a violent, alcoholic rapist.  The mom?  Not so much a midwife as an abortionist who drowns infants in the river.  This is where the movie takes a couple of strange and (I would argue) unnecessary twists.  Two-Face admits to framing Komomo for theft in the first place, not to mention strangling her to death.  This ties in with her miserable backstory and how she’s convinced that she is possessed by demonic forces; her reasoning for the murder being that Komomo was “too pure” and that being her friend was corrupting her.  Killing her ensured that Komomo would be free of her taint and would allow her to “get into heaven.”

Then: another twist.  Because Miike loves his monsters, we learn that Two-Face is two-faced indeed, for a second voice emerges in a scene that makes the Dark Half pale by comparison.  Stephen King, eat your heart out.


Can’t hear you from atop his vast mountains of money.


Final Thoughts

Interestingly, though this was shot for Showtime’s Master of Horror series, Imprint never saw its way to American TVs.  Deemed “too graphic” for us sweet, wholesome, stateside folk, I get the impression it wasn’t so much the torture as the whole abortion thing they found too sensitive.  Because you know, handing out snappy one-liners while eviscerating people with bullets is A-ok, but gol-durn you mess with a baby and that makes white Jesus cry.


Jesus: showing Loki how it’s done.

With the look of a Wild West undertaker, Drago’s stone face and top hat are a visually appealing contrast to the delicately artistic Eastern setting.  Drago certainly has the right look for the film… however, his performance is another story.  Now, critics are fond of challenging his acting chops on this one, particularly the melodramatic flair with which he delivers his lines; but I challenge you not to burst out laughing as he screams “This place is a damn… place!” in that deep, gravelly voice of his.  Is his acting good?  No.  Is it entertaining?  Oh god, yes.  I for one, consider the ridiculousness his character nothing but a boon to the film.  But hey, maybe that’s just me.



Miike is one of the few who can make me laugh, make me squirm, and still make me feel things, all within the same hour of film.  What other director would be willing eschew the tenets of decent cinema and still bring to you a stark social commentary on the role women played in Japan’s history?  With a circus-like atmosphere and a cast (the madam with the missing teeth, the syphilis-ridden midget barker, the conjoined twins), this short film is so satisfyingly weird that you’ll likely need to watch it more than once to truly appreciate every detail.  A great look into the mind of one of the modern age’s most unique directors, Imprint remains one of our favorites to this day.


High five!


Score: 9/10, recommended, required for Miike fans


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3 replies »

  1. Awesome review. But tell me that hand-face thing doesn’t really happen.

    I think i’ve only seen a couple of Miike’s samurai films–13th Assassin and Hara Kiri. I know, total noob. But I like what I’ve seen. Not usually much for gore, but he seems to have a brain, which is a major point in his favor.


  2. Oh yeah, the man is a legitimate artist. Shock and horror aside, he’s got some real talent behind the camera. The guy’s got over a hundred films under his belt. He’s crossed the line from action, to horror, to romance… underground to mainstream and back again. It’s unheard of.

    If you’re not much into gore, watch The Happiness of the Katakuris – it’s a dark comedy musical he did a few years back, which I love. And if you like the samurai stuff, give Sukiyaki Western Django a try. That one’s more gun fighting, but there’s some swordplay too. Kind of a fantastic, historical fiction mash-up.


  3. You guys enjoy Miik as much as he deserves. Makes me glad ! One goal in my life is to see all his movies, including the shits as Andromedia. Imprints is one of the bests for sure !


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