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Marebito – Review

by Shyla Fairfax

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Marebito is a wonderfully intense and strenuous horror film that takes it upon itself to dissect the complexity of horror spectatorship. Since the genre of horror has so often been criticized for being ‘sick’ and ‘perverted’, spectatorship of horror cinema has also been labelled this way. In Marebito, the character Masuoka can be understood as a representation of ‘the deviant voyeur’, as he embarks on a quest for terror and violence. Unexpectedly, the film is seems to suggest that there is something ‘abnormal’ about deriving pleasure from horror, while simultaneously expecting the viewer to derive pleasure from it as a horror. In an interview about this very topic, director Takashi Shimuzi admits that he feels compelled to “be careful” when he is making horror films because of the genre’s ability to be a bad influence. Here, Shimuzi is outwardly claiming that there is something inherently dangerous about sadistic images. The contradiction can really be seen in this particular film.

In a book dealing with gender, sexuality and spectatorship in classic horror cinema, Rhona J. Bernstein argues three main points about how people perceive such films, each of which will be used here to demonstrate the genre’s relationship with deviance, voyeurism, and repression. First, that there is an assumption that the sadistic male viewer is the ideal spectator. This will be related to notions of deviance. Secondly, that the textual dynamics of these films are structured around a sadistic male gaze which will be related to voyeurism. Thirdly, that such stories center upon heterosexual, yet monstrous, desire which will be related to repression (2). With all of these points in mind, Bernstein concludes that the classic horror narrative is invariably that the monster attacks a woman and that that woman is saved by a male hero (2). Although this formula does not apply to more recent post-modern horror films that tend to center upon the mutilation and destruction of the body (noted in a book by Isabelle Christina Pinedo), of which Marebito fits more appropriately, the three points remain relevant. The emphasis Bernstein places on the word “sadistic” is significant because it suggests that not only are the films themselves cruel but that deriving pleasure from them is very problematic. The connection she draws between sadism and the male gaze is likely drawn from a critical piece of feminist film theory in the 1970s by Laura Mulvey. In it, she describes the cinema as an extension of the male gaze; necessarily violent as it is both obsessive and perverted.

This “deviant” behavior is definitely present in Marebito. It is noticeable right away in Masuoka’s quest to find and face true horror; he makes a conscious decision to stop taking his prozac, which he claims to need in order to level out his serotonin levels. Subsequently, he is not a trustworthy narrator. Furthermore, he confesses that he has trouble feeling terror but wishes that he could. The ultimate goal of this horror-obsessed cameraman is to capture terror on camera. In this case he is also a horror (or more appropriately, snuff) filmmaker, therefore there is little distinction made between those who film horror and those who view it. They are represented as equally distasteful in this film. A perfect example is when he murders a young girl while recording it. He watches her die through his own lens acting as viewer, filmmaker and murderer all at once. The suggestion is that the three are somehow connected character types. This entire scene can be read as an embodiment of the film’s message about the dangers of horror cinema. Meanwhile, the relationship between Masuoka and F truly highlights the sadistic male gaze discussed by Mulvey in relation to voyeurism. It may be a problematic theory, however it certainly applies without hesitation to Marebito, a film that is overwhelmingly about voyeurism and the sadistic male gaze.

In her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey borrows from Freud’s theory about scopophilia and applies it to the cinema arguing that this pleasure in looking that film offers is actually a voyeuristic activity (839). She notes that what makes this voyeurism so dangerous (for women in particular) is that it is based in erotica; looking is essentially a sexual pleasure (839). Voyeurism then is intrinsically linked to ‘deviance’ as it too is at its core ‘perverted’, while film itself is necessarily constructed around the sadistic male gaze. This seems especially true for the genre of horror which so often victimizes women and/or the female body as is the case with F in Shimuzi’s film. Not to mention Masuoka’s confession of killing his wife, treating his daughter like a pet and murdering an unrelated young girl. Moreover, Masuoka’s addiction to watching quickly becomes described as a desire to see terror. Once his quest begins his attention is switched once again from the man who he is following, to a seemingly female creature, naked and chained up, barely alive. But wait, it gets stranger. His feeding her always brings about pornographic styled scenes in which her feeding from him appears sexual. Both derive pleasure from the act, and the angles purposely suggest oral sex as she sucks his finger on her knees. Furthermore, Masuoka narrates that he “liked it” and “wanted to keep feeding her until she was satisfied”. Since there are cameras in his apartment, these pseudo-sexual acts are even being recorded, likening it further to pornography.

According to Andy Richards, video is an important outlet for horror (43). When thinking about this in relation to voyeurism, the spectator becomes the peeping tom. Mulvey discusses the isolation and darkness of a movie theatre as promoting “the illusion of voyeuristic separation” (840); watching a video in the privacy of your home then is the ultimate way to indulge in one’s voyeurism. This makes Masuoka’s home a very interesting space. It is claustrophobic, dark and screen-filled; much like how one might describe a theatre, and this is where Masuoka brings F. She becomes yet another object from which he can derive pleasure through his gaze, just without a screen. And yet, he is recording her at all times and actively reviewing the tapes each night. This implies that film and video are safe and acceptable outlets for the gaze; it is somehow more appropriate to watch through the filter of the ‘cinema’.

Because Masuoka is positioned as a horror obsessed mentally ‘unwell’ camera man turned violent, the film implies that there is definitely something dangerous about horror spectatorship. Addiction to watching sadistic images is figured as questionable and it seems acting on the desire to watch may lead to the desire to partake. If such desires cannot be managed through repression they must be managed through oppression; Masuoka is eventually sent to the underworld for his crimes. Marebito thus concludes that the deviant voyeur is not welcome in civilized society, an oxy-moronic connotation, to say the least. The film is incredibly interesting, for this reason especially, and should be watched analytically at least once by every horror fan.

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Author: Shyla Fairfax

Shyla is currently in the final stages of completing a Master's Degree in Film Studies at Carleton University with a focus on Slasher Cinema, so it seems her passion for cinema has become a fixation by which she makes all life decisions. Her research interests include, but are not limited to, Horror and Gender. She is particularly fascinated by J-Horror and its relationship to notions of technology and the body.

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