Imprint is director Takashi Miike's contribution to the Masters of Horror series. The story follows an American journalist into the depths of a strange island, in search of his estranged lover. Instead, he ends up with a prostitute for a platonic evening of palavering about the girl he is seeking. The prostitute uncovers an unsettling truth.
The first Takashi Miike film I saw was Audition, and I loved it. It's a shame I can't review it since it's already in the [ list ]. If you haven't seen it, see it; I'll leave it at that. The second Miike film I saw was Ichi The Killer, which I thought was so over-the-top it was impossible to take seriously. There was nothing scary about it, save for the ridiculous acting. I refuse to waste time explaining exactly why it was so terrible since this review is for Imprint, but what I will say about Ichi The Killer is that it turned me away from Miike's films with the intention of never going back.
And then I took a chance on Imprint.
Maybe this is another case of the low expectation effect, but I can honestly say that Imprint was an outstanding horror movie. From the very beginning, it drew me in with its strange macabre setting and characters. I could've done without Billy Drago's character (the American journalist). Whenever he spoke started, I could barely understand what he was saying. I think he was supposed to be drunk off too much Saki (Sake?) or something, but he came off like a bumbling idiot. The redeeming character was the prostitute who told him the story of her death. As soon as she reveals her face on the screen the effect is solid repulsion. Her face continued to creep me out more and more throughout the film.
She prefaces the tale with the fact that she sees the dead and prefers them over the living. When she freaked out over the sight of one of the dead, I flinched and had to look around the dark room I was sitting in. It caught me totally by surprise. As she begins to tell the tale, strange leering apparitions pop up out of nowhere, creating the perfect unsettling tone for what is to come.
It turns out that the prostitute lived with Drago's lover and not only caused, but witnessed her gruesome torture, which is shown to us in strikingly vivid detail. In classic Miike style, long, sharp sticks are jammed under each of her fingernails. For the thumbs, the camera gives us a super-closeup and unflinchingly delivers a scene that caused me to cringe and squirm in my seat. Too bad I didn't get any pictures of my face during that scene. I'm sure they'd be amusing! Perhaps I'll start taking "reaction shots" while watching Miike movies from now on. Anyway, next, her mouth is forced open, her lips are peeled back, and more sticks are shoved into her gums, causing her lips to remain pulled back. The woman is left tied up without removing any of the sixteen-or-so sticks from her fingernails and gums, which creates a nauseating image every time she is on screen. It's amazing how realistic the special effects are in this movie. Are we sure the actress who played the estranged lover is really still alive?
The movie switches back and forth between flashbacks and Drago's conversation with the prostitute to tell the story of his lover's death. Sometimes the two sequences bleed together as only Miike can do it. Those sequences were reminiscent of the bizarre scene in Audition when the man is becoming paralyzed. After learning about the horrific death of Drago's lover, the prostitute begins telling her story, which is where Imprint pulls out all the stops.
It's a typical childhood, really. Her mother and father were brother and sister. They were exiled from their village when people found out and ended up living in a straw hut beside a murky river. Her mother started running a primitive (the movie shows us the definition of primitive) abortion clinic. This is the first time I've seen something on screen that revolted and offended me. Undoubtedly, Miike's intention, and it worked. After the prostitute was born to the brother-sister lovers, she was dropped in the river and carried away by the current like all of the other products of the makeshift abortions. But she got caught up on a log and the mother happened upon her two days later and decided to raise her.
Just when things can't get much worse as far as moral offenses, taboos, and torture, the film gets surreal. Well, surreal and just outright bizarre. Don't believe me? Well, how about this: A hand starts to force its way out of the prostitute's head and it ends up having a face! Yes, I'm talking about the hand...the one that just slipped out of the girl's head. Apparently, the prostitute was born with a twin, and like Stephen King's The Dark Half, the twin developed inside of her skull.
At the end, the journalist manages to kill the prostitute and is jailed for it. Two jailers allude to the fact that he will be tortured slowly and consistently while waiting for his impending doom. Once they leave, Drago is stuck in the room with his demons--literally--and we get some irony, metaphor--dare I say moral?--but after enduring everything we had just witnessed, it was hard to even focus on the ending.
Imprint is not for the weak-stomached. This is as graphic and disturbing as it gets. Its horrors will definitely leave an imprint on your mind, and you might watch family movies and cartoons for a while to shed yourself of the dark skin it shrouds you with. But it is truly a well-executed horror film that surpassed my expectations and forced me to give Takashi Miike another shot.