I am a fan of Takashi Miike although he has disappointed me as many times as he hasn't. So I approached his "banned from cable broadcast" Imprint with some hope and some trepidation. Read on:
I can't say I really cared when Showtime announced it was going to commission thirteen directors to create new for a series called "Masters of Horror". It seemed like a marketing scheme that didn't really have much sway with me. But when Showtime announced it would not air Takashi Miike's piece, without further comment, I had a good laugh. Maybe before giving him carte blanche, they should have watched more than Audition. I imagine Miike getting the call from Showtime and immediately sitting down to make a list what most repulses American audiences: abortion, torture, pedophilia, incest, rape, violence toward women...yup, that should do it.
Who knows whether or not this is an accurate notion of how Imprint came about, but after seeing the film I am even more convinced that Miike is having a little fun, and, as a result, selling himself short. The film starts out promising enough with a scene reminiscent of the atmospheric Japanese ghost stories of the 50s and 60s, but all that falls away as Billy Drago's terrible acting reveals itself and as the Japanese cast stumbles along in poor English, even to each other. Set at the end of the Edo period that we all know and love from the movies, Drago plays Chistopher who is searching for the woman he loved, but abandoned. Stranded on an island, he has no choice but to choose a prostitute and spend the night. His fateful choice not only uncovers the demise of his beloved, but also the freakish secrets about his courtesan and eventually the truth behind his own brutish nature.
The story, adapted by Daisuke Tengan (who also wrote Audition, and is the son of Shohei Imamura), is not so bad. Not unlike Rashomon, the characters are slowly revealed for who they are by the stories they tell, be them true or false. Although it is far from original, the story is able to weave multiple lines of evil begetting evil. Unfortunately, under Miike's not so subtle direction many of the nuances are lost and it quickly becomes an endurance test for the audience - if the poor acting doesn't do you in, the absurd torture will. I am willing to acknowledge that the violence in Imprint has long roots in Japanese soft core film, but I also think Miike knew exactly what he was doing. There is something haphazardly calculated about Imprint by the fact that it panders to the US audience with its English language dialog, an obvious concession, where as the shock factor, which is at best gratuitous, is totally in your face. There is no doubt in my mind that this film was withheld from Showtime because of the very prolonged torture scene. Rumors that a US audience wouldn't accept the themes on abortion are totally bunk. The fact that a character in the film performs abortions and dumps the fetuses in the river is relatively minor compared to needles slow being pushed under fingernails and into gums.
The payoff is little more that a laugh at how ludicrous things can get. When an evil twin sister appears in the form of the McFries puppet from the Happy Meal Gang popping out of the female leads head, any possibility of this film being taken seriously is out the window. In Miike's very inconsistent repertoire, Imprint fits right in. Despite his intentions for his episode in Showtime's prepackaged Masters of Horror series, Miike is certainly the one having the last laugh: Imprint (aka "the Banned Episode") is by far the most most talked about of the series.