Memoirs of a Geisha: Takashi Miike style

Director: Takashi Miike (2006)
Starring: Billy Drago, Youki Kudoh, Michie
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

However anyone ever thought Takashi Miike’s Imprint would ever get anywhere near TV broadcast is truly beyond me. I like how people were surprised when it was revealed that Miike had made something too horrible for TV. Yep, Imprint is hands down one of the most traumatic pieces of torture horror I’ve ever seen. Now, most of this is down to the torture itself, but also it's because Imprint is incredibly, indellibly, inedibly fucked up.

We’re in nineteenth century Japan. American journalist Christopher (Drago) is touring the country’s brothels in search of his love, Komomo; who he hopes to buy back from her dwarfo syphilitic pimp. But alas, the course of true love never did run smooth – she’s dead.

He’s told this by a disabled-faced unnamed hooker (Kudoh), who plies him with Sake and begins telling him her life story. This being a Miike film – think of it as his version of Memoirs of a Geisha - things inevitably get a lot more disturbing. By the time we get to the Japanese rope bondage and the forcing of bamboo down fingernails, things are already horrible enough. But Miike’s nowhere near done. Oh look, rape. Oooh, lovely, dead foetuses. Some of the imagery Miike delivers is as beautifully haunting as it is horrible. Well, mostly horrible. Whoever made that episode about the stupid fucking ice cream clown should be ashamed – Miike proves himself a master of horror in the truest sense. Some of the scenes in Imprint easily equal his own Audition and Ichi the Killer in terms of cringe-inducing nastiness, whilst there's a bit of Gozu style surrealism to his island of "demons and whores" too. Most of the other Masters of Horror episodes could have been directed by anyone; even Dario Argento's sublime Jenifer wasn't particularly recognizeable as an Argento flick in of itself (and the less said about Tobe Hooper's Dance of the Dead the better). Imprint, however, is a Takashi Miike film through and through. Those familiar with Miike's work will be somewhat unsurprised by the extremes to which the film travels. Everyone else will be shocked, traumatised, sickened and [insert other such outraged emotions].

Sadly, there are a few things that let Imprint down. Most notably, the decision to have all the dialogue spoken in English. It’s understandable for the scenes with Drago, but for the most part, it seems like a silly and commercial idea. And, even worse, the Japanese actresses suck at English. It sounds quite comical where it shouldn't, and really takes you out of the story. Billy Drago's performance is by turns wooden and overly melodramatic (if such a combination is possible) but not completely terrible. Still, it's an impressive achievment that Imprint got made at all, especially when you consider that the director doesn't speak English. Other niggles: the final reveal is perhaps a bit stupid; some of the CGI and practical effects suck - the syphilitic dwarf's nose looks distractingly rubbish.

Like much of the director's work, Imprint is divisive. Some will see it as just another torture turd, and will see the myriad of gruesomeness presented as deliberately attention-seeking and controversy for controversy's sake. It's a minor work, to be sure, but no means to be dismissed. After all, one suspects that very few would have given a shit about Masters of Horror were it not for this episode. It's ironic - Miike refuses to be labelled as just a 'horror director' - and then he goes and makes the most horrifying Masters episode of them all.


  1. Great review Joel. I was floored by Imprint - sure, the other instalments of this series were entertaining and some were even good - but Imprint was, hell, IS, one of the most disturbing and discomfiting things I've ever watched. Once I got over the initial trauma I realised this was a good thing! Well, what do you want from a supposedly 'no holds barred', 'balls to the wall' horror series!? Something about an ice-cream clown??! ;o)

  2. Thank you kindly.

    It definitely took me a few minutes to adjust to the horribleness of it all. This, 'Pelts' and 'Jenifer' were probably my fave episodes (although I kinda liked 'Pick Me Up' too. I may have to review them soon.

    Series 2 was mostly teh suck though... Damn ice-cream clowns....