Imprint (Takashi Miike, 2006)
Imprint, Takashi Miike's contribution to the television series Masters of Horror suffered a fate of not being in television due to its content. Instead, Imprint, carrying the acclaim of its prolific helmer, has landed a spot in many film festivals and has finally reached its audience with the release of its DVD. It's typical gross Miike (the Miike of Audition (1999) and Ichi the Killer (2001)), just a bit more glossy and with all its actors and actresses speaking English (even if they're not supposed to). Of course, it's understandable. The target audience of the segment are middlebrow Americans who would probably turn off their television sets once it occurred to them that they are required to read subtitles. The problem here is that the English spoken is accompanied by a thick and almost ununderstandable accent, resulting to a jarring viewing experience.
The plot is probably the richest among the other segments in the television series' first season (although John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns is my favorite of the batch). An American tourist (Billy Drago) travels to an island to find Komomo (Michie Ito), a sweetheart he left behind but promised to bring back to the United States. He visits the whorehouses of the island, determined to find her golden haired Japanese girlfriend, but is only successful in hooking up with a prostitute (Youki Kudoh) with a gruesomely malformed face and an even more gruesomely mysterious past. It seems that the prostitute has some knowledge of what happened to Komomo, and in a series of flashbacks, tells the American the fate of his love.
There's a rich visual style Miike makes use of here. He turns the unidentified era of Japan into a time wherein whores are equated with freaks, monsters, and demons. Miike paints his film with bright colors, which to a certain extent disservices what he aims for. The result is mightily fantastical, and at times, abusively eye-straining especially when scenes of gratuitous violence is draped with bright eerie reds. More interesting is Miike's choice of turning his characters into anti-social outcasts. The American is blanketed with a mysterious past, and is played by Drago with a curiously hysterical tone, turning his love search into an absurdist nightmare. Komomo, who is described by the prostitute, as golden hearted, is portrayed as having a bit of insanity accompanying her fiery red hair (she insists that she's a princess in the midst of the fact that she prostitutes herself for meager coins). The most intricately designed character however is the prostitute --- her face divided into two halves (a normal one and one that is curiously monstrous); her hair is much too big for her meager frame; her dispassionate voice concealing a horrific story.
Imprint also has Miike's faults. Miike tends to have no restraint, turning his film into carnival fare instead of compelling cinema. Imprint is the most carnival of fares. Miike's desire to create something absurdly beautiful out of what is inherently disgusting and abrasive turns the film into a grandiose confusion. The prostitute describes her hometown as the most impoverished community in her province, but that doesn't stop her poor mother in putting up brightly hued windmills each time she performs her odd business. The images resulting from Miike's incoherence provide for an atmosphere of odd dread that the Brothers Grimm achieved with their fairy tales. Miike is a compulsive filmmaker, leaning more towards what looks horrific, violent, and shocking, thus sacrificing basic concepts of logic, and common sense.