Directed By Takashi Miike
Novel Written By Shimako Iwai
Masters Of Horror Volume I
In doing my part to help celebrate the contributions in Asian genre cinema this month, I’m honored to share the love I have for one hell of a prolific Director, Takashi Miike, and his movie IMPRINT. This particular title can be found within the first volume of Mick Garris’ brainchild, The Masters Of Horror, which is an impressive collection of film submissions from some of the most revered names in Horror. Volume I of The Masters Of Horror boasted names such as Dario Argento, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, John Landis, and obviously Takashi Miike, each film includes loads of bonus materials sure to appeal to the genre geeks of the world.
IMPRINT is merely one of Miike’s approximately 100 productions he has sat in the directors chair for, easily earning him the title of one of the most productive filmmakers out there. At this years famed Fantasia Film Festival, Takashi was awarded the remarkable honor of a Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s fearless, genre bending, and quite unique. It’s almost as if Miike is an acquired taste, because I’ve come to see either people love him or hate him, never really encountering a passive opinion of his work. Miike’s catalog of films is eccentric and eclectic, including the legendary and violent gorefest of his motion picture adaptation to the Japanese Manga Ichi The Killer, following the exploits of a troubled, twisted, and unwell young man named Ichi and a sadomasochistic Yakuza soldier in search for his missing boss. The level of brash, unapologetic violence in Ichi The Killer is downright astounding to some movie fans, alienating a large number of the films audience and rightfully taking its place among my list of ‘Incredibly Difficult Films To Watch’. When the movie you’re about to watch has the opening credits emerge from semen, courtesy of masturbation initiated by taking sexual gratification watching a woman being mercilessly assaulted, you know you’re in for one controversial flick! Takashi Miike epitomizes extreme Japanese cinema with Ichi The Killer as well as Audition, Visitor Q, and 13 Assassins.
IMPRINT is honestly one of my favorites from the Director, with the story holding true his trademark gore and penchant for the extremely unusual. Showtime ended up banning this addition to The Masters Of Horror episodes, deciding not to air it shortly before the scheduled premiere on U.S. television. Every time I show IMPRINT to someone for the first time, the words “what the fuck did you make me watch?” or something alike are uttered to me. It’s great! The movie may be viewed as slow starting to some, but immediately a weird and ominous tone is established, with introductions to some unforgettable characters such as the intensely unconventional looking actor Billy Drago ( The Untouchables, The Hills Have Eyes – 2006 ) . IMPRINT opens with us learning just why this American traveller named Christopher is eager to roam the number of unpleasant whore mongering establishments in rural 1800s Japan, in search of one specific young woman. Separated from this staggeringly beautiful woman, the traveler is determined to locate his lost love Komomo ( Michie ) and return to America with her, giving her all she deserved and desired, to ask for her hand in marriage. In his quest, he meets a being that is the unnatural mashup of the ‘dream midget’ from David Lynch and Mark Frosts iconic television series Twin Peaks, and the bird like entity who sits atop the head of one of the epic mazes checkpoints in Jim Henson’s timeless Labyrinth. To top off the creepy factor, this little fucker has a large chunk missing from his nose which is almost impossible to look away from as he speaks cryptically to the American man. Encouraged by the mini monstrosity he most recently met, Christopher is directed to seek out a whore who is facially deformed. This prostitute knew the woman he so desperately was trying to reunite with, and may have news of her whereabouts. Simply referred to as The Woman, and impeccably portrayed by Yuki Kudo ( Rush Hour 3, Mystery Train ), the deformed prostitute is tracked down by Christopher within a strict, unfriendly, unfair whore house operated by a tyrannical House Mother ( Toshie Negishi ) and her psychotic assistant ( Shimako Iwai, author of the novel ).
A common factor within Miikes productions are the presence of some really awful women who enjoy partaking in acts that demonstrate exactly how devoid of any humanistic traits they really have. IMPRINT is no different with the likes of the Madam and her sidekick. Upon meeting and procuring the services of the attractive yet physically altered Woman, he receives a warm and sympathetic welcome from her. They sit, drink Saki and converse. The Woman opens up to the traveler, revealing she did yes in fact know Komomo, she was there also working. Komomo was the only one who befriended the outcast and bullied girl. She shared her story of how she was to become a Daughter of Joy and how it was a living hell to be one. The Woman tells of her chronically ill father, and devoted and loving mother, a Buddhist priest who took it upon himself to show her friendship which was in stark contrast to what the fellow children of the village gave her. Her father ended up succumbing to his illness, dying in the river which ran beside their poor homestead. The mother of the deformed child, with no means to provide for her, sold her a freaky side show, thus beginning her life of being sold from one owner to another. Eventually ending up on the Island of Whores and meeting Komomo.
The tale of Komomos demise is graphic and intense. The young and beautiful, good natured Komomo was set up for a theft she did not commit which resulted in a most brutal and prolonged torture session at the hands of the House Mother and her sadistic assistant. Steel pins are placed underneath every one of her fingernails as well as strategically placed within her mouth, in the gums. Its a horrendous sight, as Komomo is also hog tied and strung up by the ceiling. Underneath her armpits, a large handful of lit incense sticks are used to inflict excruciating pain in a most sensitive area. The petite and demure beauty is no more as the torture ensues, both authority figures of the whore house looking on in satisfaction. Not being able to take the pain, the abandonment of her American lover and not knowing he was searching for her, Komomo hangs herself. Christopher is of course beside himself with grief and guilt, spewing curses and crying drunkenly. And this is where Miike’s love of the weird and unusual take focus. The Woman and her behavior, her demeanor quickly fade into something darker. As if she couldn’t wait to shed the act of awkward, abused, and fragile, the Woman morphs into a vile representation of evil. If you’ve never seen IMPRINT I wish to not take away your right to enjoy the surprises at the end, for they are unforgettable and beautifully captured. That is something I’ve always loved about this film, is yes it is grotesque with everything from floating baby fetus’ in the river to incest, but it is meticulously shot with great attention to colors and tones. It plays upon so many shared fears and worries we all have such as guilt, shame, denial, and lost loves. How a life of constant neglect and abuse can systematically shut down what makes us human to only give life to something that wants to destroy life and it’s pleasures. A cautionary tale to some perhaps, but a magnificent source of Japanese genre cinema to all.