STUDIO: Anchor Bay
MSRP: $16.98
• Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
Commentary by critic and American Cinmatheque film programmer Chris D. and writer Wyatt Doyle
"I Am the Film Director of Love: An Interview with Takashi Miike" featurette
"Imprinting: The Making of Imprint" featurette
"Imperfect Beauty: The Make-up and Special Effects of Imprint" featurette
Takashi Miike Bio
Still Gallery
DVD-ROM: Original Screenplay
DVD-ROM: Screen Saver

When it was announced that Showtime wouldn’t run the Masters of Horror episode directed by Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, many people – including me – got upset. When you hire Miike you know what you’re getting in to, so how could Showtime have been surprised when he delivered something that completely pushed the envelope? Of course the mystique of the piece, called Imprint, increased with the banning. Sadly, Imprint doesn’t live up to the hype, or even most of Miike’s other work.

The episode is set up to fail from the start because of casting: lead actor Billy Drago is atrocious. He’s laughably bad, undermining the drama of any scene he’s in. It’s a fatal performance. The other half of the casting problem, as noted in the excellent commentary track on the DVD, was that Miike forced Japanese actors to try to act in English. They’re unable to properly emote, and the interaction between the hammy Drago and the stumbling Japanese actresses bogs the film down, leaving Imprint without a center – which is especially deadly because the movie makes no sense. This isn’t really unusual for a Miike film, but the flatness (or cartoonishness, in Drago’s case) of the performances just draws attention to how nonsensical the story is and closes off any avenues of subtle meaning.

The good news is that even when his actors work against him, Miike remains a master of the visuals. Imprint has a strange and unnerving look, and the director’s camera always manages to find incredibly interesting angles to view the action. And of course there’s the trademark Miike perversity. This time it comes in the form of a torture scene that one-ups Eli Roth’s Miike homage Hostel, and a subplot dealing with abortion that apparently led skittish Showtime to scrap the show.

I am kind of baffled by this – the abortion content didn’t get to me. I don’t know if this is an indication of how jaded I am or that it was the subject matter and not the visuals that scared Showtime. There are scenes with fetuses being dumped in a river, but after you’ve seen a Miike movie where the main title is spelled out in semen, some fakey fetuses are underwhelming. We don’t even see the abortions happening, which is completely something I would expect from a Miike film.

The torture scene is harrowing, though. Miike seems to have two modes of violence – the very wacky and the very disturbing, and this falls into the second category. It’s more Audition than Visitor Q, and the scene goes on for what feels like a very long time. It’s also astonishingly effective because, unlike the current crop of torture porn films (of which I am generally an unabashed fan), the victim of this torture is a character we like. At least as much as we can like any of the woodenly-realized characters in Imprint.

Sadly, Imprint will be the first time many Americans experience Miike. While there are some excellent moments and while the last ten or fifteen minutes gets into trademark Miike strangeness, Imprint is mostly a major disappointment.

The DVD itself, though, is great. The strange thing about the Masters of Horror series so far is that I can recommend almost any of the DVDs just based on the fantastic special features, even though many of the episodes don’t warrant more than one viewing. Imprint might have the best commentary of the bunch because, while Miike isn’t on the track, the two commentators (American Cinmatheque film programmer Chris D. and writer Wyatt Doyle) are brutally honest about the episode. It was nice to hear their take on Imprint’s flaws, because I felt a little lonely with my dislike of the episode.

Imprint also boasts some excellent documentaries and a fine interview with Miike. As always, Miike comes across as slightly surprised that people think of his work in a certain way – in this case he sort of denies being a horror filmmaker. Which is maybe true enough, but “Totally Fucked Up” is not yet a recognized genre.

6 out of 10