Directed by Takashii Miike, 2005
The wait is over. The UK branch of Bravo had the balls Showtime didn’t and aired Takashi Miike’s ‘banned-because-it-was-too-graphic’ episode of Masters of Horror, titled Imprint. So the main question is, “Did it deserve the controversy?”
Yes and no. I can understand why Showtime would want to preempt any letters they may of gotten in the mail; anything involving bloody fetuses (or should it be feti?) will always get people up in arms. That said, anyone who is going to be prone to writing letters against whatever they find objectionable shouldn’t be watching a horror anthology to begin with – and they damn well shouldn’t be watching a Miike film. That’s just begging for it.
On the other end of the spectrum, had Showtime tried to soften the film, they’d of just gotten letters from pissed off Miike fanboys. They were kind of screwed either way and I don’t blame ’em for making that tough call.
I really don’t want to undersell it, because it is certainly fucked in the head, but no, it isn’t that graphic – not as much as you may expect given the controversy/hype. If you’re deeply disturbed at the sight of an aborted fetus, there are a handful of shots here that will traumatize you (I am, for better or worse, not one of those people) and a few other disturbing scenes that’ll creep out anyone, but don’t expect this to be like the imaginary Le Fin Absolue du Monde; a film so graphic and unrelenting that all who see it are driven to insanity by its raw power. It does, however, have that signature blend of Miike surreal horror that claws deep into a person’s psyche.
Imprint comes equipped with a torture scene working on the same level as Miike’s more notorious films, Ichi The Killer and the excellent Audition. Reflecting back on all the horror I’ve watched in the last few years, the only times I can recall cringing with such revulsion that I wasn’t looking at the screen were times I was watching a Miike film. And yes, Imprint had me squirming more than once.
Drew, who coincedently concieved Le Fin Absolue du Monde in his script for Carpenter’s episode, summed up Imprint best about a month ago with his review. One of my favorite lines from his great writeup is regarding the torture scene mentioned above:
If you just flipped past this scene on cable, you would genuinely wonder if you had suddenly added Videodrome as a channel on your system.
So very true, however, this isn’t just an hour long torture scene. It opens with an American on a boat ride to an island brothel. He’s there not to find a prostitute for the night, but rather he is searching for the love of his life that he reluctantly had to abandon. She’s no longer there and since he’s stuck for the night, he gets coaxed into selecting one of the women. He picks the one hiding in the shadows, a woman with a scarred face and a tortured past. They spend the night together and she tells him of the horrible fate his lost love met as well as her own hideous life…
As the scarred woman – whose right side of her face looks exactly like God hit it with the smudge tool in Photoshop – explains everything Miike progressively breaks out the horror. The first breakthrough is the torture scene and its easily the most unsettling thing in the film. After that’s over, the scarred woman becomes the focus of it all and some really crazy shit starts happening. I’m not going to detail it all here, but it’s pretty in-sane. I’m talking hands-with-mouths-comming-out-of-heads insane.
It’s got a crazy story and some pretty crazy actors. It has some really great production design, and possibly the best makeup effects of the entire season. It’s absurd, but still convincing in its execution, which is something Miike has really proven capable of.
My main problem with the episode is the way it’s told. We’re given the flashbacks from the point of view of the scarred woman, which work really well towards the subtle insanity of it, the only fault is after we spend 30 or so minutes learning whatever crazy thing happened, the script basically pulls a “but what rrreeallly happened is…”, which pretty much negates everything we’ve just seen. It allows for some shocking and crazy scenes, but it doesn’t really help to maintain the story, which is already pretty nutty. It works in a Machiavellian way, in that the ends justifies the means, but if someone were to be telling you a really long story and half way through they said, “hah, just kidding, here’s what really happened”, you’d probably punch them in the face.
Even still, as a whole it’s one of the better episodes of the relatively lackluster Masters of Horror. My favorite is still Don Coscarelli’s Incident on and off a Mountain Road, but Miike’s is visually the most memorable of the entire series. It’s really just that nuts.
However, in the vast realm of Miike, Imprint is fairly ordinary. It’s surreal and vulgar like Ichi or IZO, but not as refrained and jarring as Audition, nor as original and unique as Happiness of the Katakuris, but still better than his more mainstream horror like One Missed Call. And certainly not as extraordinary as his best film, The Bird People in China, which is easily the apex of his already daunting filmography (69 films in 15 years).
It’ll be an eye-opening watch for the uninitiated, a kickass hour for all his fanboys, but for those (like me) who objectively look at Miike as one of the most fascinating auteurs of our generation, it’s good, but not one of his landmarks.