Mimicry Freaks (2019) review

Introduction

Shugo Fujii, who made the splendid mystery-thriller Red Line Crossing (2017) is back. Inspired by Seiu Ito’s eerie painting ‘kaidan Chibusa Enoki’, Shugo Fujii sets out to create splatter horror film dealing with the theme of child abuse (General-note 1).

Review

One morning, Fuma Maruyama (Tatsuji Sugiyama) finds himself waking up deep in a forest not knowing how he ended up here. Ren (Riku Enomoto), his son, also wanders nearby. Then, suddenly, Fuma is approached by a Namahage (Narra-note 1).

At the same time and in the same forest, Ms. Shinkai (Takako Sakai), a wedding planner, is driving Toru (Tomoya Mochizuki), an anti-nuclear power activist, his fiancée Sakura (Hitomi Kawano), and her father Masanobu (Daiki Tanaka) to the wedding hall in order to rehearse the wedding. Alas, the wedding planner loses the way and, to make matters worse, the car breaks down.

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Mimicry Freaks is full of elements that make this horror-thriller narrative utterly unpredictable. While we are not going to reveal any of them – in order not to destroy the spectator’s enjoyment, we advice the spectator to be ready to be bombarded by elements of non-sense that derail any expectation one might have.

These elements of non-sense, of course, pervert the coherence of the narrative, but it is precisely this lack of coherence that makes the Mimicry Freaks so tensive and unnerving. One might think that the fact that Mimicry Freaks lacks coherence is caused by lousy screenwriting, but that would be wrong. The narrative is designed/structured in this way. Fujii exploits the very fact that a certain lack of coherence is instrumental in the creation of a successful horror movie.

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The abundance of elements of non-sense in Mimicry Freaks does not mean that the narrative itself makes no sense. The narrative is structured in such a way that the spectator, by interpreting the relation between various signifier/images, i.e. various elements of non-sense, is able to get a general grasp of what’s happening (Narra-note 2, Narra-note 3). And it is also these signifiers/images that, once concatenated, enable Fujii’s Mimicry Freaks to become a gripping exploration of the cycle of abuse and the horrors child-abuse quite often lead to.

What makes Fujii’s exploration of child-abuse powerful is the very doubling of the abusive relationship. Not only do we see Fuma abusing his son Ren, but we also see Fuma, as adult, being abused by his father. As is often the case in reality, Fuma is both the abused as the abuser. This doubling, which underlines the cycle of abuse, of course, leads the spectator to ask if the abused Ren will also turn into an abuser (Narra-note 4 (Spoiler)?

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While the creation of meaning, of course, diminishes the disorientation the spectator feels and the uneasiness this disorientation creates, Fujii succeeds in keeping the spectator in a uneasy state by way of keeping many aspects of his narrative vague and by adding, at certain moments, additional non-sensical elements. Even if the spectator is able to understand the main narrative thread, he – and this is fundamental –  is never allowed to have a full grasp on said narrative.

The cinematography of Mimicry Freaks’s strong point is its energetic compositions. Not only does Fujii mix fixity and movement in a fluid way, he also adds, with great mastery, unconventional shot-perspectives, pov-shots, shaky movement, and a bunch other techniques in the cinematographical mix. Fujii’s artful and well-thought-out compositions reveals him as a director with vision and an editor with the technical skill to realize this vision.

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The inventive compositions have no other aim than to empower the disorientation stemming from the narrative, to unnerve the spectator, and to make sure he can never feel at ease (Cine-note 1).  The ‘visual’ disorientation amplifies the narrative disorientation – i.e. not knowing what will come next, and is vital in turning Mimicry Freaks into a truly effective horror narrative. It is thus only because the spectator is never able to find a steady footing in the narrative that the horror-elements, even if some are clearly fake, have an unsettling impact. Like Red Line Crossing, Mimicry Freaks features an interesting play with colour-overlays. This play with colour-overlays adds, despite having a limited function in the narrative, another element of visual unpredictability to the cinematographical mix.

In some cases, Fujii uses sounds/music to create jump-scares. But while such scares are present, it is great to see that Fujii does not rely on these kind of scares in order to cheaply empower the horror of Mimicry Freaks. Instead, Fujii uses these scares in order to further disorient the spectator and keep him, at all times, on the edge of his seat (Cine-note 2). In other words, the horror-sounds/music ensure that a certain level of tension of uneasiness is always present and that the level can, whenever needed, be raised (Sound-note 1). And in some cases, the non-diegetic sounds guide, albeit in a subtle way, the way the cinematographical compositions unfold.

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Mimicry Freaks is, in short, an amazing horror film and a gripping exploration of the cycle of abuse and the horrors child-abuse quite often lead to. This is all due to the fact that Fujii (writer, director and editor) has understood that horror is empowered by visual as well as narrative disorientation. It is because the spectator is denied to get a full grasp on the narrative, that the splatter and the visual horror is able to unsettle the spectator.

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Notes

General-note 1: Let us note that Fujii’s narrative is not based on San’yûtei Enchô’s original rakugo story, which was later adapted for Kabubi. For more information, we gladly refer the reader to:  https://www.kabuki21.com/chibusa_no_enoki.php

Narra-note 1: Fujii’s use of the namahage, an demon-like being or oni, in the narrative has nothing to do with how it is used in contemporary Shinto-folklore. In Mimicry Freaks, the namahage is represented as nothing other than a predator that lusts for blood. 

Narra-note 2: The spectator can only complete his general understanding at the very end of the narrative, because only then the last puzzle piece is given.

Narra-note 3: The two signifiers are the word ‘death-row inmate’, the image of blood on Fuma’s hand, and the image of Fuma hitting his son.

Narra-note 4: In short, yes. His manifestation as an ‘abuser’ is a further corroboration of the cycle of abuse. But, without spoiling too much, his transformation is different (and constitutes, in fact, the central horror-element of Mimicry Freaks.

Cine-note 1: In some cases, the cinematographical composition comes to visualize the disorientation the character in focus experiences.

Cine-note 2: Fujii exploits the element of surprise that characterizes jump-scares.

Sound-note 1: At certain moments in the narrative, due to technical limitations, conversations are somewhat muffled.

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