Solitary Masuoka has an obsessive interest in filming. Even when not working as a freelance cameraman, he spends his days recording the world around him and views the footage on his computer monitors. One day, he becomes fascinated by a news film in which Furoki appears so afraid of something, that he takes his own life by stabbing himself through the eye. Wanting to encounter this fear, Masuoka retraces Furoki’s steps, discovering a labyrinthine underground world beneath Shinjuku station. Here, he talks with the ghost of Furoki before stumbling upon a naked and not-quite-human young woman (Miyashita). After freeing her from her chains, Masuoka takes the mute, feral creature to his apartment, where he christens her ‘F’. After receiving eerie phone calls saying F needs to return to the underworld, Masuoka discovers he can only care for the creature by feeding her blood. To do this he murders a woman who has been tailing him (Niwagawa), and subsequently a young schoolgirl. As dream and reality begin to merge, it becomes apparent that the woman Masuoka has killed may be his wife and that F may well be his daughter, Fumiko. After meeting again with the ghostly Furoki, Masuoka decides to retreat with F back to the underworld. As the grinning creature cradles him, the film ends with a camera viewfinder focussed on Masuoka’s terrified eyes as he finally experiences Furoki’s fear.
Starring fellow horror director Shinya Tsukamoto, Shimizu’s digital video production is a more challenging and disturbing work than his celebrated Ju-On series. Much of this quality is no doubt down to the input of Chiaki J.Konaka, a talented anime scriptwriter who laces the film with echoes of H.P.Lovecraft. In Shimizu’s hands, the film builds a tense, disquieting atmosphere, dominated by a growing sense of primordial horror. What distinguishes the film, however, is the unique way in which Marebito’s hidden world appears to become accessible to Masuoka through digital technology. Whilst it would be a challenge to reduce the film to a single, coherent philosophy, the fact that Marebito is a meta-commentary on digital technology quickly becomes apparent. Here, the digital, rather than analogue, nature of the production is emphasised by constant changes in image quality as the film incorporates various diegetic camera and video sources. This is motivated by Masuoka’s approach to filming, which borders on an obsessive pleasure in surveillance. But if digital recording allows him to review a greater quantity of footage (often simultaneously on several monitors), it also leads to a paranoiac suspicion of what remains unknown or undecipherable, often filled by Masuoka’s disturbing fantasies. The dreamlike atmosphere of the film is particularly evident in underdetermined ‘interruptions’ into the story world, such as the flashes of the monstrous Deros or mysterious telephone calls. Ultimately it appears as though it is Masuoka’s compulsion to go beyond the everyday world that unleashes repressed primal fantasies. The bland normality of Masuoka’s encounters with superficial bosses or shop assistants is thus contrasted with his murderous hatred for his wife and his incestuous desire for F/Fumiko, which is finally consummated after Masuoka cuts open his own mouth for a bloody kiss. However, if ‘digital paranoia’ leads to a desire to go beyond the everyday, the fulfilment of this desire through unmediated access to primal fantasy ultimately destroys Masuoka through unbearable fear. The themes and visual construction of the film work together in a sophisticated manner. The camera often puts the audience in a position of surveillance over Masuoka, and towards the end of the film, the supposedly detached position of the spectator is further put into question by feedback effects interfering with the image track. This makes Marebito a complex but rewarding film that transcends the disposable thrills of many J-Horror works.