asian horror



MAREBITO  (2004)






Further reinforced our WOMEN IN HORROR/ACTION month, I return to the Tartan Asia Extreme series, which consistently has strong & interesting female characters.


MAREBITO is the kind of film that really fucks with you. It jumps between CCTV/video with a lot of hand held shots, grainy, dark, hard-to-see shots interspersed with crystal-clear shots in perfect focus. It takes you places without a through-line, without plot explication–& in that sense it is a daring & very creative kind of movie. It is odd to me that somehow I ended up watching this one after the  mind-fuck  experience of trying to make sense out of UNDER THE SKIN (2013) last week.

This film is written & directed by Takashi Shimizu, who developed an interest in Horror films young in life. He does feel that too many movies of the horror genre are more sadistic than scary; yet in some ironic way, this film is both of those things.


He has directed 26 films since 1998, & has the rare distinction after finding a lot of success with JU-ON: THE CURSE (2000), & JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002), & JU-ON: THE GRUDGE II (2003), he was hired to direct the American versions of his movies: THE GRUDGE (2004) & THE GRUDGE 2 (2006). Other films include GHOST VS. ALIEN (2007), & THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D (2009). 

MAREBITO has a Lovecraft vibe to it, & the big jumps between CCTV/video & regular digital shots makes me think of David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME (1983), some of the films of Atom Egoyan, & all of the SAW movies.


Shimizu said: “The feeling we know as “Terror” is actually ancient wisdom that is sealed in our subconscious mind.”

The cinematography was by Tsukasa Tanabe, who has lensed 9 films since 2004, including SAMURAI CHICKS (2004), & THE CHASING WORLD 3,4, & 5 (2014). 

The movie is 92 minutes, & it is rate “R” for strong bloody violence & some nudity. The music was scored by Toshiyuki Takine; this being the only feature film he as composed for. One of the things that makes it interesting as an Indie far-out feature, is that Shimizu filmed it in just 8 days in between making JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002), & JU-ON; THE GRUDGE (2003). This movie won the Golden Raven for Best Director at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film in (2005).


Yes, a young woman is discovered in a cave, chained to the rocks, & she is completely naked. We see her breasts, tiny Asian blossoms, as she holds her hand over her crotch.



There is quite a lot, as a man stabs himself in the eye, a man beats on a naked woman who is chained to the ceiling during the prologue, a fuzzy snuff film feel to it. Two women are murdered & drained of all their blood. The protagonist cuts himself with a box knife several times. But in a very stylized surrealistic dream-like manner.


This movie certainly can be enjoyed on two distinct levels; one can watch while drinking or while drunk, & one can view it stone sober, endeavoring to tie up loose ends, figure out what the fuck it is all about.


Open a man sitting in front of seven monitors. We see several of the screen images, zooming in on apartment windows, one of which has a lonely woman standing in it.

Masuoka, the man, does a voice over, explicating that he is a freelance cameraman, who happened to be with a crew in the subway when an older man kept transit police at bay with a knife. Masuoka filmed the scene in journalistic herky-jerky cinema verite style.



The man removes his sun glasses, & while looking terrified, he stabs himself in the right eye, committing suicide; which is not that easy to do. He could puncture, even eviscerate his own eye, without damaging the brain. This scene, perhaps, is our first clue that what we will witness may not be real.

Marouka, as narrator, shares that he is fascinated with better understanding fear; for the man seemed to be terrified of something. “But did he see something that terrified him, or was he terrified that he might see something?”. 

Marouka returns to the scene of the suicide late at night. We begin to notice that he has his video camera with him at all times, filming as he walked.

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As he descends to the platform hallway, he begins to flash on nightmarish creatures, human-like that crawl like crabs, are white-washed & naked, running on all fours like dogs. (These are the Dero: demons of a sort).

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He decides to open a panel the end of the hallway wall, & begins to descend on several circular stairways, deep underground beneath Tokyo. He films his descent through several tunnels & passages, passing through steam & power plants, hiding from workers.

He opens a door that lets him wander out into a pre-WWII subway tunnel; discovering a homeless man, who warns him of the dangers around him, like a gatekeeper. There is a sense of Bosch paintings about the place.

Suddenly exhausted, he slumps the ground, & leans against a red- tiled wall. A man walks up to him; it’s Furoki, the man who killed himself earlier, who warns him of the Dero, who murder men, suck all their blood out.

Cut to Masuoka traveling on, deeper underground, where he comes out on a rock ledge, overlooking mountains & an odd-looking empty village. The background looks like a painted scrim-curtain; no attempt was made to make it seem real.

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Cut to him coming upon a young woman, naked, chained in an alcove in the cave wall.

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We get a close up of her face & her tits, & her hand over her crotch, & the purple welt where the chain was attached to her ankle.

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Cut to his apartment, where he has taken her, dressing her in a pair of spare panties & an old sweat shirt. No clue as to how he rid her of her old rusty chains, or traveled with her while she was naked. Now she is in front of him, lethargic, pale, just wanting to sleep.

What this abduction or adoption has to do with the study of fear is left as a mystery. He deduces that she sleeps 21 hours a day, is only alert for 3 hours. She will not eat or drink anything he offered her. He thinks that she appears to be a species other than human.

He becomes obsessed with taming her, understanding her. He names her “F”; probably for female, or maybe fucking-bitch.

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When he goes out, he has her monitored with several cameras, which he can access with his cell phone. He gets her to her feet, though she does not seem comfortable being erect (so WTF, how did he get her to the apartment?).

Cut to them walking in a shopping mall, with her tethered to his wrist. He films her constantly, & suddenly is aware of a MIB, dark sun glasses trench coat, hat following him.

Cut to him returning to his apartment alone. A woman in a yellow jacket was hiding in his stairwell watching him. Inside he finds “F” convulsing on the floor.


He offers her some milk, which she spits out. His phone rings, & a mysterious voice chides him for not taking care of “F” properly, & that now he is in serious trouble.

Cut to him outside, walking the streets, filming strangers. One of them, a young man, is angry about being filmed without permission, & demands the film tape. Masouka refuses, to the man knocks him on his ass, & breaks the camera lens, & takes the film tape. Our hero cuts his finger badly on the broken lens glass.

Cut to him in his apartment trying to bandage his wounded cut finger. “F” perks up, sniffing the air, smelling the fresh blood. Curious, he puts his bleeding finger to her lips.

She sucks on it for several minutes, infusing the scene with serious sexual innuendo. “I liked it,” he says in voice-over, taking a box knife to cut a deep slit in his left hand.

She suckles the blood ravenously, than sits back with the blood all over her mouth & chin. Now he understands what she needs to have for sustenance.

He begins to bring her rats, cats, small dogs, squirrels; whatever he can scrounge up. He gives up on training her to be human; he thinks of her as his exotic pet.

Cut to him dumping several medications in the trash, including Prozac.

Cut to Masouka on the street being confronted by the woman in the yellow coat, who claims she is his wife, demanding to know where their daughter, Fuyumi, is, accusing him of hiding her. He feels she is a crazy woman, & runs away from her.

Cut to him returning to the apartment, finding “F” missing. He wanders the street searching for her. The mysterious MIB shows up & chides him further of my mistreatment of the girl. When he gets home, he finds that “F” has returned, is napping, & has blood on her hands. He chains her like you would a bad cocker spaniel.

Cut to him back on the street. The woman in yellow begins to chase after him. He leads her into an alley, pulls out the box knife, & cuts her throat.

Later we see he had planned this, & had been carrying several bottles & funnels. The woman was sprawled out atop garbage, with her blood draining into several containers.

Cut to “F” smiling as she sucked fresh blood (possibly her own mother’s) out of a baby bottle, making loud squeaky rubber sucking sounds.

Cut to him opening a fridge that is now filled with blood in containers, as we hear the terrible sucking the bloody nipple sonata in the background.

Cut to later, as he talked a young female student into filming some pornography (quite popular with the youngsters in Japan it seems). But he whipped out his box knife, & slit her throat too. We watch the girl’s face being splashed with blood, & the sucking sounds echo in our ears. Cut to “F” smiling as her mouth & jaw is soaked in blood.

He calls the pay phone where the MIB called him, who answers; Masouka informs the man that now he is taking care of the girl properly. The MIB agrees.

Then things get even more strange. He takes “F” to a Karaoke bar, & leaves her there, as he wanders off (WTF) to find himself, or some irrational shit or other.  He sits on a dock, staring at the bay. Kuroki, the suicide ghost, sits down with him, & they discuss Fear.

Cut to Masouka being a homeless person, living in a cardboard box in the park near where he killed the female student.  In voice over, he admits to being mentally ill, that he murdered his wife, that “F” is really his daughter.  Then he begins to see the demonic Dero on the streets.

So, out of guilt, he returns to his old apartment. His wife’s ghost appears to him in the elevator. “F” is still there, though barely alive. She speaks to him for the first time, thanking him for coming back for her; no clue how she got back from the fucking karaoke bar, or how long he’s been gone, or how the hell she has sustained herself in the interim.

He whips out his box knife, puts it in his mouth, & slices open his tongue;

then the kisses her passionately as she gleefully sucks his tongue. The scene fades as the sucking sound aria gets louder.

Epilogue, dressed only in a sweat shirt, “F” leads Masouka down,down those stairways to her underground lair, filming them as they descend.

Cut to them in her cave, her naked, smiling, face covered in his blood, holding his camera, filming him being terrified as he faces death, & finally understands both Fear & Karma.

Roll the end credits.


Rotten Tomatoes rated this film at 38% Critic’s Approval, with 50% Audience Approval. IMDb rated it at 6.1 stars.

John Strysik of CINEMA GUIDE wrote: “MAREBITO is a very good film that wears its influences (like Lovecraft) proudly, & does not suffocate in their embrace; remaining unconventional, free from cliches, rife with insinuations only known by their shadows.”

Steve Biodrowski of ESPLATTER wrote: “It is far from a completely successful experiment, but it does create something with a unique enough identity to be worth exploring.”

Doug Brunell of FILM THREAT wrote: “It is as creepy as it is fascinating.”

David Nusair of REEL FILM REVIEWS wrote: “This is a stunningly incompetent piece of work.”

John Hartl of the SEATTLE TIMES wrote: “The gloppy sound effects are so over-the-top that they invite laughter, & the bloodsucking scenes are allowed to become absurdly repetitious.”  (John & I came up together in the late 60’s at the U of W: him in the Journalism School & me at the School Of Drama. He had a projector in his basement, & several of we film buffs would meet there to view pirated 35 mm prints of movies; many of that group went on to create the SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL–just saying.)

Jeffrey M. Anderson of  COMBUSTIBLE CELLULOID wrote: “This is an hypnotic, atmospheric digital video wonder.”

Luke Y. Thompson of THE NEW TIMES wrote: “Takashi Shimizu has done what compatriots such as Hideo Nakata have not yet managed to do; to make a contemporary Japanese Horror film that actually has some new ideas in it.”


The only thing that works for me is that this film is about madness, & the surrealistic jump-cut editing & non-linear scenes were illusionary, nightmares, hallucinatory episodes that Masuoka experiences as he dumps out his Prozac; that the whole movie is illustrated insanity.

I don’t think it is supposed to be instructive, or has to do with teaching morality, or is a fantasy. It is more an Orpheus Descending into Hell kind of hook. While Masuoka is wandering around underground beneath Tokyo, in power plants manned by workers (which he avoided), & several abandoned subway tunnels, he peopled the places with his own demons, much like the dream of the dying soldier in JACOB’S LADDER (1990). 

That Aya was really his wife, that he had dipped into schizophrenia, had kidnapped his own daughter, had hallucinated all the demonic elements that drove him to commit several murders, & left him with no will to remain alive himself; that the ending was an actual event, where he dragged his dying daughter back to the imagined catacombs, & died in her arms as she filmed it.

I liked the appearances of the Dero, as brief as they were, who were named after the “detrimental robots” in Richard Sharpe Shaver’s A WARNING TO FUTURE MAN. Their naked mostly white-washed bodies reminded me of antibodies, white corpuscles.

This was the stuff of true madness, where a man could murder his own wife, & feed her blood to his captive daughter. The rare moments of “reality” were jarring, like the police & crowd in the subway suicide scene, & the man who disliked being filmed without his permission, who beat the crap out of Masuoka, & took his video tape with him.

To its credit, MAREBITO is not a film like any other, an eight-day movie miracle that is well worth watching. I rate it a 7.8 out of the 10 star HH rating system. It takes less grit to get through it, for sure, than UNDER THE SKIN did/does.

1 reply »

  1. I’ve been fighting with my 8 year old iMac, & it seems the Mother-board has become bipolar. So my apologies for this review missing some of the images, & the trailer. Going to bit the bullet & buy a new computer tomorrow. (It is just one damn cyber thing after another.)


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