I'm always willing to give a film directed by Takashi Miike a shot, because he never fails to deliver images that stick to your brain. His films are often excessively violent, even by my liberal standards, and are jut as likely to be nonsensical. Regardless, he has a gift for finding a new way to present a horrific circumstance in such a way that the viewer has never experienced. "Imprint" is no exception. This is actually something of a dark fairy tale, and could potentially be quite enjoyable and mostly palatable for a good half of the film. Then, as when "Audition" transformed from a mild romantic drama to a David Lynch-style mindfuck, "Imprint" diverges quite heinously. A twice told tale darkens considerably when revisited, and a lengthy sequence made clear why this one could never make the cable broadcast rounds. At this point, the film turns to torture of a sort that only the most desensitized person of highly suspect empathy would be disinclined to turn away from.
The acting is servicable. English is clearly not a first language for the Asian cast, and even Billy Drago had me wondering at times. I imagine Takashi Miike's on-set translater disappearing for long periods of time on a heroin binge or somesuch-- leaving his sole direction to Drago much stomping of feet and the resonate intonation of "bigger. BIGger! BIGGAR!" Drago is usually to Jack Palance as Christian Slater is to Jack Nicholson, if anyone decides to go all Gus Van Sant on the Burton "Batman" film. I've loved Drago since freakin' "Vamp," and his characters tend to be broad, but he's completely off the map here. You can smell the ham wafting out of your speakers.
Aside from a perhaps too obtuse ending, the story works wonderfully, and the author of the source novel makes a deliriously effective leap into acting in a cameo. The production design is fantastic, mingling authentic period with intentional anachronism and strong elements of anime (including primary colored hair to differentiate between the female characters.) Most of these "Masters of Horror" entries have served as reminders of why these once famed directors are working on direct-to-cable "movies" today. In Miike's case, it was an opportunity to see why horror must look to the future instead the past. Horror is like comedy, it must stay fresh, surprise, and push boundaries. In this too rare instance, mission accomplished.
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