Japanese director Takashi Miike has always been a master of controversial cinema. His films such as "Visitor Q", "Gozu" and of course, the cult hit "Audition" have always pushed the boundaries of horror filmmaking. "IMPRINT" is Miike's contribution to the "Masters of Horror" series; co-produced by American filmmakers, the film nonetheless, carries the Takashi Miike seal of disturbing images, creepy cinematography and a certain seductive execution that you just cannot take your eyes off its proceedings. This is the film's uncut version that almost never made it to U.S. audiences.
In 19th century Japan, (when the West began to influence Japan), an American (Billy Drago) arrives in an isolated area in search of a Japanese prostitute that he had fallen in love with. He has traveled far in search of a woman named Komomo (Michie), traveling from brothel to brothel in hopes of liberating the kindly woman from her plight. Night falls, and he has no choice but to spend the night in this forsaken town and he is kept company by a kindly courtesan with a deformed face. This mysterious woman (Youki Kudoh) has tales of his beloved Komomo and as to how she had passed away. The man insists on knowing the truth; little does he know that some stories are better left untold.
IMPRINT is a very disturbing mindblower of a story based on the Japanese horror novel "Bokee Kyotee" by Shimako Iwai and adapted for the screen by Daisuke Tengan (Audition). The film is an unspeakabe orgy of torture and depravity, extreme cruelty and perverse vengeance, twisted secrets and stunning revelations. The film's story is told in flashbacks as told by the deformed courtesan played by Youki Kudoh (Memoirs of a Geisha, Mystery Train) and the actress does a very excellent job. In a role such as this, one must consider displaying a certain mental imbalance all the while acting as if there is nothing really amiss with the character. Kudoh is convincing and well carries the film's burden.
The past of the deformed courtesan is actually the film's showstopper. The audience will be drawn to the tales of this mysterious woman; layers upon layers of her character will be revealed slowly. The style of its storytelling is actually very effective. Her story as narrated gets more twisted and disturbing as the film progresses. To sum everything up; this is a tale of curses, Karma and betrayals. Komomo is a courtesan with a kind heart and the torture that she underwent exceeds that ones displayed in Miike's "Audition". I felt a certain uneasiness as I became privy to her torment but at the same time I could not look away. The violent images of abortion will also be etched in my memory.
The direction by Takashi Miike is as solid and competent as ever. I have often said that Miike is a master of visuals and movement; this film displays the usual style that American audiences have grown to love. The camera work is well-executed and the cinematography fits the film's premise. Miike utilizes a lot of colors that represent the film's mood; some scenes have more color than others and shadows are oftentimes utilized. The wind signifies the symbol of change in one's life. The film is VERY DISTURBING, and it is to Miike's credit that he manages to keep a balance between its disturbing images and the film's actual screenplay. I do think the director wanted to keep the cinematography enchanting and mysterious; while the images become more disturbing as it progresses, all the more becoming more seductive. Asian Horror thrives on slow reveal and foreshadowing and this film is no different.
The film's final act and the final SINISTER secret may not be wholly original, but Director Miike is smart enough to play on the film's strengths rather than some of it's weaknesses. One other flaw it may have is that Billy Drago's performance does seem a little lackluster. I felt that he was trying a little too hard to convince. His character may come across as a little underdeveloped for the inexperienced movie watcher but not so if you paid attention to the film's entirety. Aside from Kudoh's performance, Michie also shines in her role as Komomo, however limited her screen time might be. I felt nothing but sympathy for her torment.
The film is also nicely paced. For a film that clocks in at little over an hour, the film does manage to generate the right scares and mental disgust, but I was left hungering for more; all the more being relieved that the film's depressing story had ended. This is a film that really gets under your skin and emotions, and the less you know, the better the experience would be. Takashi Miike has never disappointed me with his tales of surprising twists and violent imagery and "IMPRINT" is no different. Japanese horror may sometimes have the usual motifs of Karma and cursed retribution but after viewing this film, these motifs become quite strong when handled by the right Japanese director such as Takashi Miike. This film is not for the squeamish and those who cannot stand disturbing images.
Cruel, full of torment and mind-blowing uneasiness, the film stays enchanting and gripping with its seductive execution.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! [4 ½ Stars]