Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Shock Labyrinth (2009)

Takashi Shimizu is talented. His best known film in the West is the traditional-styled and American remake, The Grudge (2004), of his own equally traditional Ju-on: The Grudge (2002) (with the latter a remake of his superior, non-linear video project, Ju-on (2000)). Like fellow countryman and filmmaker, Shinya Tsukamoto, Shimizu has a fertile imagination and grasps fringe and weird concepts in ordinary contexts. Shimizu's best work expands on these ideas: Ju-on (2000) (victims of extreme violence remain among the living as vengeful spirits, committing acts of extreme violence against the living, solely because they resent those around them); Marebito (2004) (a freelance cameraman spends his days walking and filming while what he sees with both his eyes and camera begin to change); and Rinne (2005) (a film crew attempts to re-enact events and make a film about a mass murder at the very location where the murders occurred). One of his most recent films, The Shock Labyrinth (2009), continues his trend. Imagine a spiral staircase. It is a powerful symbol for both time and space. Imagine the bottom of the stairs as the origin of a specific time and imagine its top as the ending with its climbing stairs as time’s progression. The concept as a whole can be seen by viewing the stairs from the side; however, by looking down upon the stairs from above, one only sees its top circle. How many actual steps there are remain hidden. Finally, imagine the spiral staircase collapsing upon itself: several circles of stairs lay in close proximity, almost jumbled. This collapsed spiral staircase, now as a symbol for both time and space, to put it in an understated manner, causes time and space to become jumbled. This is the shock labyrinth, serving as Shimizu’s narrative technique for his film (also a powerful visual motif within). Ken (Yûya Yagira ), now in his early twenties, returns to his childhood village. He reunites with his friends Motoki (Ryo Katsuji) and Rin (Ai Maeda). It begins raining. An unexpected visitor arrives, another childhood friend, Yuki (Misako Renbutsu). Ken’s exit from the village was known: his mother died which prompted his father to move the child away; and his return was expected by Motoki and Rin. No one knows where Yuki has been for several years or why she decided to return on that particular evening. Specific imagery within the film holds the key to its understanding--at first, disorienting and ridiculous: a child's backpack. This particular backpack is a stuffed bunny wherein its belly a child's keepsakes are found. Two straps connect the bunny's shoulders to its hind legs, and a child can wear it on his/her back. An endearing image, perhaps, but seeing the backpack absent from a child is just ridiculous: this item belongs in the world of adolescence, and it holds no particular significance to any adult. However, imagine a different association with the item: what if the stuffed-bunny backpack was associated with a specific person linked to a moment in childhood? When Ken, Motoki, Rin, and Yuki reunite this image has a specific association, tied to an incident that occurred during their childhood. This incident is returning to them in a powerful recall during the present night. Seeing events through these characters' eyes is deftly crafted by Shimizu. On this level, The Shock Labyrinth is a narrative and visual mystery.The Shock Labyrinth is a haunted house in an amusement park where the main characters visited as children. Now as young adults, they revisit the place. The Shock Labyrinth where the events and players of the past literally meet the players of the present to create an ending for each. The Shock Labyrinth was filmed and presented in 3-D (which adds an incidental (?) layer of meaning to the film). Unfortunately, I suffer often from baggy eyes and never had the inclination to view the film in that format (coupled with having little interest in the format). However, it is available in a two-disc set from Taiwan. It is English-subtitled and contains both a disc for the 3-D version (with glasses) and the non-3-D version. The set is encoded Region 3 and can be purchased here. Like most of Shimizu's best work, The Shock Labyrinth leans more towards the arthouse than the multiplex and merits more than one viewing. Also like most of Shimizu's best work, The Shock Labyrinth stands as a fantastic alternative to traditional contemporary cinema. The less said about the film the better--most definitely suited for those seeking the offbeat and unique.


Aaron said...

Sounds great, man. I'm gonna definitely be checking this one out. I've only seen GRUDGE and MAREBITO so far. Nice to see a movie review from you again, Hans!

Hans A. said...

Thanks, Aaron. Happy Halloween, bro.

The Owner said...

How much did they pay you to write this? I just finished this movie and it was godawful! You write very beautifully, but you're a terrible judge of movies.