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By Steve Anderson | October 12, 2005

“If you think you’ve seen it all, think again.” This is the tagline on the back of the “Marronnier” box that I got not so long back. In the case of Japanese horror, “like nothing you’ve ever seen before” is generally not an idle boast. Remember, these are the people who brought you:

1. “Cockfighting For Eight Year Olds” (Pokemon)

2. “That Movie With Three Separate and Concurrent Surprise Endings” (St. John’s Wort)

and of course

3. “That Movie With the Guy Who Kept The Dildo Down The Front of His Pants And Put It In His Mouth For A Couple Seconds Before Humming The Star Spangled Banner And Shooting Himself In The Head” (Crazy Lips).

Not to mention “Kodomo No Omocha” and “Ebichu Minds The House”. You haven’t seen screwed up until you’ve seen a dusting hamster that frequently gets thrown at flat surfaces at high speeds.

So what we have here is the story of a couple of nutjobs and the dolls that love them…uhh…wait…that THEY love. Yeah, that’s a little better. So anyway, a dollmaker by the name of Iwata has discovered a new practice for making incredibly lifelike dolls that look so realistic that they almost could be mistaken for people. In fact, they ARE people. Former people.

His assistant, Numai, is even more nuts and has taking a liking to a local girl, enough of a liking to lavish her with expensive gifts (mostly dolls and doll clothes, which isn’t much of a surprise, all things considered). Oh, and Numai also likes our local girl enough to capture her and and her friends then make dolls out of them.

Oh, but that’s not the end of it….

The first thing you’ll have to notice about “Marronier”, assuming you can even find it anywhere, is the disturbing box art. The depicted doll is fabulously creepy, with a giant bloody gash running the entire length of her head even across the eye socket. The girl directly beneath the doll is a dead ringer for the doll, ratcheting up the sheer creepy by a factor of a lot.

Even better, the DVD menu is a festival of creepy moments as we get a short vignette of someone being chased by something holding a chisel.

Now, we haven’t even started playing the movie yet and already it’s fantastically creepy stuff.

Even selecting main menu gives us a little shock!

But all is not well in Marronnier town…some of the engineering is a bit off. This movie depends on subtitles–its only audio tracks are Japanese–and some of the subtitles have a tendency to slide off the bottom of the screen rendering them unreadable. This is a HUGE problem in a movie so dependent on subtitles, and I hope that future versions find that problem fixed.

And then, the movie rapidly boils down into that pure, unalloyed Japanese strangeness that we’ve all come to know and love. Scenes that are abruptly fast forwarded, for example, for reasons that no one can ascertain. Decapitations, positively gleeful sledgehammer beatings, and tons of that old Japanese randomness are all displayed in full bloom.

As we move along, and discover the secrets behind the incredible doll line that’s so very popular (I can just see Charlton Heston running through the Ginza district shrieking: “Iwata dolls are made out of PEOPLE! THEY’RE PEEEE-PUUUL!”), and how jaw-droppingly creepy Iwata’s assistant is.

The truly amazing thing about “Marronier” is how incredibly incoherent the movie is, and how this incoherence actually adds to the sheer terror of the overall work. Half the time, I have no clue at all what’s going on, and just as often, I find myself just shuddering at some new development or set thereof that’s either baffling or creepy.

I know I’ve repeated it several times, but that’s merely to underscore just how accurate the terminology is. MARRONIER. IS. CREEPY. It’s creepy. It’s almost an hour and a half of sheer, full-on, non-stop, balls-out CREEPY. It’s unrelentingly creepy, and you know what? I love it.

This is one of the finest examples of what Japanese horror can accomplish. It uses its innate cultural patience in a fashion that allows a slow, continual building of terror to climb to an inevitable and satisfying conclusion.

The ending is unbelievable, by any standards. Check out the scene at the one hour mark! That’s UNBEFREAKINGLIEVABLE! That’s almost one full minute of the most AMAZING scene I can ever recall! The final battle in the woods is equally spectacular in the truest, bloodiest sense.

The special features include audio options, a featurette called “The Legends of Marronnier”, a doll gallery movie, an interview with Junji Ito, a behind the scenes featurette, deleted scenes, two trailers (one sixty seconds, one thirty) and DVD credits.

All in all, despite some truly minor flaws that I’d only like to see improved so I could enjoy the movie more, “Marronier” is a singularly terrifying experience, that easily lives up to the box’s claims. It truly is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

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