CKF On The Edge: IMPRINT
CKF ON THE EDGE:
IMPRINT (2006) (An unaired episode of the Showtime series MASTERS OF HORROR)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares
I was pretty excited when the cable channel Showtime began showing their MASTERS OF HORROR series in 2006. The idea behind the show was great. Take some top-notch, and mostly A-List, horror directors and let them push the envelope and go further than past anthology shows. The result, however, was a mixed bag. Although I’d say that, in Season One at least, there were more interesting or downright good episodes than there were clunkers. (Season Two was another thing entirely)
Looking back on the first season, the one thing that struck me most is how Showtime reneged on their original concept. They shied away from truly subversive cinema by first censoring Dario Argento’s episode JENIFER (cutting an oral sex scene gone awry) and then refusing to air Takeshi Miike’s installment, IMPRINT.
Some of my favorite episodes of the season were John Carpenter’s stellar outing CIGARETTE BURNS, John Landis’s return to form in DEER WOMAN (a perfect blend of humor and horror that harkened back to his AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON from 1981) and Argento’s aforementioned, and totally twisted, mini-masterpiece JENIFER.
But after seeing Miike’s banned episode, I found IMPRINT to be easily the best of the bunch.
This wasn’t really much of a surprise. Miike’s film AUDITION (1999) is in my top 10 of best horror movies of all time, and he directs IMPRINT with the same kind of disturbed poetry that permeates his best work.
Billy Drago, the quirky, intense actor who has appeared in everything from B movies like the Chuck Norris flick HERO AND THE TERROR (1988) and Alexandre Aja’s remake of HILLS HAVE EYES from 2006 (as Papa Jupiter) to television shows over the years, from T.J. HOOKER to CHARMED, plays Christopher, an American who begins the episode taking an eerie late night boat ride, on a river full of corpses, to an island in 1890s Japan. He has searched all over the country for the beautiful Komomo (Michie Ito), his one true love, who he promised he would one day rescue and take away from her life of prostitution.
The island is full of prostitutes, and while Komomo is not there, Christopher is forced to choose someone else for the night. With dozens of women reaching out for him from behind barred windows, he chooses an isolated woman at the back of the room (Youki Kudoh), who it turns out is disfigured.
When he is alone with his choice, the woman sees right through him and knows that he pines for someone else. She gets him to talk about Komomo and his plans to find her, and then reveals that she knew his great love. The prostitute then goes on to tell him the story of how his beloved Komomo met her horrific end.
At first she tells him a story of how Komomo was the only one on the island to be nice to her, and how the other prostitutes hated Komomo because of her beauty. When the Madame’s jade ring is stolen, and Komomo is framed for the theft, the other women take great glee in finally having an excuse to punish the girl who is prettier and thinks she is better than they are. They all bring her to a punishment room, where they wait eagerly for Komomo’s comeuppance. What happens next is a long, drawn-out torture scene involving at first burning incense and then long vicious needles applied to fingernails and gums, which was probably a big part of Showtime’s reluctance to air the episode.
Once the disfigured prostitute’s story is over, however, Christopher knows that she is not telling the entire truth, and demands that she tells him everything. This results in her telling the story twice more, about her own childhood and about how she met Komomo, and Komomo’s torture and death. Each time, the story changes slightly. The structure of the episode is similar to the classic Japanese film RASHOMON (1950), except that instead of telling the story from several characters’ point of view, IMPRINT tells us multiple versions of the same story from one person.
I do not want to give too much away, but, as the story gets more horrific with each telling, we start getting into such taboo areas as incest and abortion (probably the number one reason why this episode did not air on American TV). Throughout, there is a strong surreal quality to the proceedings that make us feel as if we’re drifting through a nightmare, up to the ending which is completely bizarre, yet effective.
I thought the lead actors were all good, even Drago whose character is a little over the top. Drago’s performance worked for me, however, because its oddness added to the nightmarish tone.
Miike is a director who does not shy away from shocking images and truly disturbing subject matter, but he is also a visual poet, and there is as much beauty and strong use of color in IMPRINT as there is repulsive and terrifying imagery.
While I did think IMPRINT was a strong, disturbing film, and am not surprised by Showtime’s timidity in not showing this episode, I do not agree with their decision at all. IMPRINT is a very powerful episode and Miike is a true artist. Since horror is supposed to push our buttons, Miike succeeds in proving that he is a true Master of the genre. If it had caused more controversy by being aired, then it would have simply confirmed the promise of the series. A premium cable channel that claims to offer true freedom for filmmakers needs to stick to its guns. But I guess keeping subscribers from possibly jumping ship is the true bottom line.
I suppose we should be thankful that IMPRINT saw the light of day at all, and that we’re able to watch it on DVD (the DVD came out after Season One was over. But I find it supremely ironic that the one episode they didn’t show on television was the crown jewel of the bunch.
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Screenplay by: DaisukeTengan (based on the novel by Shimako Iwai)
Starring: Billy Drago, Youki Kudoh, Michie Ito, Toshie Negishi and Shimako Iwai
Cinematography by: Toyomichi Kurita
Special Effects by: Yuuichi Matsui
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares
(Note: A slightly different version of this article was first published on the Australian movie website DVD RESURRECTIONS in 2006)