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Review: Marronnier

While I generally prefer physical media, online streaming services can be useful on occasion. For example, I was browsing Fandor this morning when I stumbled across Marronnier, a J-horror flick so obscure that it currently lacks a Wikipedia page. Normally, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance, but the involvement of famed gore manga author Junji Ito caught my attention. With no money on the line (just precious, precious time), I decided to give it a view.

What an utterly baffling experience! Because information concerning the movie is so scarce, I’m forced to make a lot of assumptions about it. The fact that it was evidently shot on a handheld camcorder leads me to believe that it was made for Japan’s robust direct-to-video market, though I’ve also found speculation that it’s a student film. Either scenario would explain the amateurish production values: watching a maniac stalk schoolgirls through the cheerfully sunny streets of the Shinjuku district is comical rather than suspenseful, and the disjointed, repetitive narrative structure frequently plunges straight into tedium. Writer/director/cinematographer/editor Hideyuki Kobayashi clearly wasn’t taking himself too seriously, but that’s no excuse for poor craftsmanship.

Fortunately, Ito’s contributions help to elevate the material, if only slightly. Beyond producing and making a brief cameo, he designed the various creepy wax dolls and marionettes (with Kobayashi allegedly handling the final fabrication and puppeteering), and it definitely shows; like his most iconic creations (namely the ethereally beautiful yet homicidal Tomie), they plummet headfirst into the uncanny valley—especially when they start blinking, smiling, and transforming into slit-mouthed, spider-walking abominations.

Ultimately, however, even that silver lining can’t quite alleviate my confusion. Is Marronnier meant to be a charmingly zany horror-comedy in the same vein as Hausu and Sweet Home? An earnest attempt to thematically deconstruct the objectification of women? A thinly veiled parody of the infamous Guinea Pig series (which Charlie Sheen mistook for genuine snuff films)? Honestly, trying to make sense of the movie is more entertaining than actually watching it.

[Originally written March 18, 2018.]

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