Monday, June 1, 2015

Imprint (2006)

When attempting to discuss a film with a large reputation there’s always the conundrum of not regurgitating what’s already been said numerous times before ad nauseam. This is especially true of films who’s reputation resulted out of a controversy. Controversial films and films that have been dubbed “shocking” or disturbing” are interesting in that there’s always the chance of a film relying on nothing but shock value and as a result are rather hollow. Then there are the films which push boundaries, break social taboos and are truly transgressive that clearly have something to say with an intelligence behind them. Films like Borowczyk’s The Beast (1975), Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) immediately spring to mind. At this point the fate of Takashi Miike’s Imprint is near legendary. Originally intended to be the season one finale of Showtime’s Masters of Horror anthology series, the film was immediately banned from broadcast in the US. Due to the banning, Imprint became instantly notorious with many impatiently for the DVD release and wondering just how graphic the film really was and if it would live up to the hype. Miike proved once again to be one of the most fascinating and radical contemporary filmmakers with Imprint, one of the most unflinching and original horror films in recent memory, and a film which is so much more than simply shock value for shock value’s sake.

In 19th centaury Japan, Christopher (Billy Drago) an American journalist returns in search of his lost love, a prostitute named Komomo whom he once promised to take back to America with him one day. Upon arriving on a strange island, Christopher sees no sign of Komomo but is offered a variety of prostitutes to spend the night with. He chooses a nameless, disfigured woman (Yûki Kudô) who claims to have known Komomo. Christopher demands to know the truth about what happened to his love, although when the woman begins relating the fate of Komomo along with her own personal history, perhaps Christopher begins to regret ever coming back in the first place.

At heart, Imprint is a morose fable based on the idea of the extremities that love can lead some too, even willingly go insane, clearly a favorite theme of Miike’s. Miike does something interesting by telling the story in a sort of episodic nature where truth and lies become entwined and amazingly the film covers quite a bit of emotional ground despite its brief 63 minute running time so the effect is definitely akin to being hit by a bus once its over. That feeling is also aided immensely by Miike’s matter of fact presentation of what has made the film so notorious in the form of torture, aborted fetuses and a climatic reveal that even by Miike standards is completely mental and comes out of left field. Imprint is also a curious film in that despite taking place in the 19th centaury Miike’s astounding visual design incorporates influences from a variety of eras making it seems as if the film is existing outside of time. Also the fact that aside from the American Drago and Kudô who speaks perfect English, the rest of the Japanese cast are speaking phonetic English which oftentimes sounds incredibly “off” yet adds to the already odd tone of the film and the idea of the film taking place in some surreal netherworld. It also has to be pointed out that Drago turns overacting into an art but considering that most everything in this world Miike creates is exaggerated to a certin degree Drago’s histrionics make perfect sense.

Setting aside for a second the fact that Showtime is a premium pay cable channel that is supposed to air films completely uncut and uncensored, one of the most surprising things about their banning of Imprint is that they were apparently so surprised by its graphic content. By the time it was supposed to air Miike already had a sizable reputation for not just pushing the envelope but setting fire to it with films like Ichi the Killer (2001) and Visitor Q (2001) just to name two already under his belt so it seems hard to believe that someone over at Showtime wouldn’t be aware of the type of filmmaker Miike was. Believe it or not Miike wasn’t the only filmmaker who had censorship imposed on their work with Dario Argento being forced to make cuts to his first Masters of Horror episode Jenifer (2005). Imprint did however air overseas uncut with no issues. The banning of Imprint will ultimately be the first thing most will think about whenever the film is mentioned which is fair as it stands as an example of absurd censorship although its unfortunate that most reviews of the film chose to focus solely on its more sensational content making the film seem shallow which it most certainly is not. Far from just an empty collection of shock scenes, Imprint is a legitimate modern masterpiece from a true maverick.

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