Please be aware that the screenshots on this page were taken directly from the broadcast on Bravo TV in the UK in April 2006. At the time of writing (April 2006), Imprint has still not been aired in the US and is currently unavailable on DVD.
Directed by Takashi Miike, 2005, 63 min. Starring Youki Kudoh, Billy Drago, Michie Ito and Toshie Negeshi.
In theory, the idea of the Masters of Horror TV series is a great one: find the best and/or most notorious horror directors of the age, give them an hour and say they can do whatever they want in that hour. Sadly, in the first series at least, the results were disappointing: only John Carpenter managed to rise to the challenge and produce something exciting.
As for Takashi Miike's Imprint episode, well: the execs at Showtime in the USA who commissioned it refused to let it air, citing it as just too shocking. Fortunately, UK satellite TV channel Bravo had no such qualms and it aired in early April 2006. Snowblood Apple's Sky TV subscription was now no longer money spent in vain...
The problem is, there seems to be two Takashi Miikes. One is the Miike of old, happy to make exploitation flicks which seem to have two things in common: misogyny and explicit violence (typical examples: Ichi The Killer and Audition). The other Miike is the more subtle, the weirder, and to be honest, better: check Gozu and The Great Yokai War for evidence of that. It seems that if he knows he's making trash, he reverts to type... and Imprint is nothing but trashy, only in a bad way.
It's the late Victorian period. Christopher, an American journalist, has been travelling for an unspecified period looking for Komomo, a lost girlfriend who he promised he would rescue from her life of prostitution and return with him to America. To that end he lands on an island solely populated by whores and their masters. He's solicited by a syphilitic tout (played by Mame Yamada, last seen in Nine Souls and always just as welcome as Ren Osugi and Taro Suwa, who also seem to pop up in movies when you least expect them) who claims not to have seen Komomo, but reckons he should enter the brothel anyway as he's got to spend the night somewhere. Christopher agrees, and asks for the company of a girl he'd seen lurking in the shadows at the back of the room where the prostitutes solicit for business.
The woman joins him in the room he's been given. She's disfigured on the right side of her face, and has been since childhood. She's also a rather disturbed character – she says she feels a greater connection with the dead than the living. When quizzed about Komomo, she says she was here six months ago... but hanged herself when the love of her life failed to find her and take her away. Christopher is naturally distraught at this, and takes refuge in a bottle of sake. About to fall asleep, he asks the woman for a bedtime story, a story about herself; what he's given is a version of her life where her mother, a midwife, sells her on when her father dies from a lung disease. Eventually she's sold on and ends up on the island. Komomo, she says, was the most popular girl there and was making all the other girls jealous. To that end, when a jade ring was stolen from the brothel's Madam, Komomo was blamed and tortured to confess; she hanged herself as a consequence.
Christopher of course does and doesn't want to hear this – but nevertheless refuses to believe all the woman is telling him and pleads with her to say more. Thus begins a whole cycle of the woman saying more, refining her story, and Christopher not quite believing her and commanding her to say more...
The problem with Imprint is that it's a real step backward for Miike. He could get away with this sort of trash when he was churning out four films in a year but lately we've begun to expect more. Instead, when given free rein he's reverted back to his old method of shock over content, and to that end he succeeds magnificently. From the syphilitic pimp to an extended torture scene, wife-beating, dead foetuses floating down rivers, an abortion scene and incest, it's fair to say Miike has tried to break pretty much any taboo he could get his hands on. That's not to say that Imprint is any good, on the other hand, as this method of "offend anyone you can and see what sticks" does not make a successful movie. It's perhaps telling that, while the story itself is based on a well-known horror novel (Bokee Kyotee), the screenplay was penned by Daisuke Tengan, also responsible for Audition.
That said, the movie looks stunning: of late Miike's been learning how to make a shot look good and there's plenty of that in evidence here. He's also dabbling in symbolism; although it's simple stuff (something going on with windmills, as well as colour symbolism: white for purity, black for evil and red for torture, or scarlet women) it's welcome to see. The performances are OK: Billy Drago as Christopher is as dark and low-key as the character demands, though I can't help but feel it's all a bit clichéd (which may or may not be due to the scripting). Likewise, Youki Kudoh is both wooden and overwrought, and it's entirely likely she was cast solely on her English language skills.
Inevitably the movie has suffered somewhat in being Miike's first project entirely shot in English, a language he himself does not speak. Reputedly, some of the Japanese actors had to learn their lines phonetically and this does get in the way of the comprehensibility of the movie at times; Mame Yamada, for example, is almost unintelligible. Nevertheless, despite the language Imprint was shot in, this is still a Japanese movie. There's a definite air that this is Miike's shot at producing an old fashioned kwaidan story, only updated for the twenty-first century with added gore.
Still, you could argue Imprint is just another quick Miike knock-off where he's so busy quoting his other movies that he's forgotten to make anything particularly coherent. The plot jumps around confusingly and, rather than the depth of the story becoming clear over time, you're left reeling by the incessant shock tactics of the director. They're really not necessary in a piece like this and it would have been far more interesting to focus in on the motivation of the woman (in particular, why she keeps changing her story) and whether or not the entire piece is just a figment of Christopher's deranged imagination, trying to justify his abuse of his younger sister and the murder of a prostitute. Towards the end, even, as Miike quotes Takashi Shimizu, Imprint becomes just outright laughable.
It's easy to see why Showtime refused to air this in the States – Imprint is exceptionally difficult to watch at times but, tellingly, it's the cheap shock tactics of the abortionist that would have rendered this unshowable. Imprint is, sadly, a prime example of Miike at his worst – knowing he's able to make trash, he's reverted to type. A pity – this could have been a lot better, rather than an Audition retread in period costume.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 4/10
Laughs: 1 rubber-hand-head-related unintentional guffaw
Gore: 8/10. More if you're sensitive to dead foetuses - ie, pretty much everyone, then
Needles: Kiri kiri kiri. Oops, wrong movie. Same method though
Windmills: several dozen
Shock tactics: totally unnecessary
Films in a Similar Style: Audition, clearly. Sabu, stylistically. Onibaba in a perverse sort of way.
*** A real disappointment ***
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.mastersofhorror.net/ - official Masters of Horror website, with trailers and downloads. Japanese site at http://www.moh13.jp/
http://www.eiga.com/official/imprint/ - Imprint subsite (Japanese only)
http://www.bravo.co.uk/mastersofhorror/media/horrorbanned3_384k.wmv - trailer here
http://www.fangoria.com/news_article.php?id=5012 - short piece from Fangoria about the production
http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/tv/archives/101164.asp - short piece on why Showtime refused to show the episode