Looking Back Inside The Box – A Review Of Takashi Miike’s Box

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Looking Back Inside The Box – a review by Thomas Wilson

A succession of low-angle shots introduce a half masked man, with a shovel in hand, as he conceals away a box at the bottom of a trench. An antecedent establishing shot unveils his untraceable location; that of the bone-chilling rural, desolate and immeasurable in size. Intercut into this sequence, as a transparent plastic sheet grasps and compresses her entire body, is a number of claustrophobic close-ups that reveal a young woman confined inside the buried box. The exterior noise of muffled soil hitting wood, and the interior noise of her breathless moaning, become excruciatingly loud as the spectator is forced into close proximity with the captive. The audible suffering is seemingly a response to the psychological disturbance she is subjected to, however, a stimulation of serene enjoyment could quite clearly be the inverse twin. The encompassing sheet finally releases its hold and slithers away. The young woman is able to breath again.

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Condensed to under 40 minutes, ‘Box’, the third, and concluding, mini film in the East Asian horror anthology, Three… Extremes (Chan; Chan-Wook; Miike, 2004), is indicative of the transgressive and surreal filmmaking style of the ever diverse, Takashi Miike (Audition). Centered on an aspiring novelist, Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa), and her entrapping perceptions of a regrettable past that reappears in hair-raising fashion, reality and dream is blurred to the point of bewilderment as the the bizarre nonlinear narrative unfolds. Alluding to this recurring dream, that “always ends…just… there”, Kyoko’s awakening confirms that the atrocious scene detailed above was in fact a Groundhog Day like vision that invariably culminates just moments before asphyxiation. The unknown man shovelling the icy clay upon the box is later revealed as her father, and local magician, Higata (Atsuro Watabe – who also plays the part of a Kyoko’s publisher). As children, Kyoko and twin sister, Shoko (Yuu Suzuki), performed for Higata in his circus exhibition to a small gathering of lifeless spectators. The headline act sees the two indistinguishable twins fold into a box, which is then locked by their father as he hurls darts upon the lid. Moments later the two boxes unfold and the twins are replaced with a bunch of roses, one red, one white. Throughout the narrative the choice of colour becomes important. For instance, as Shoko practices her box routine post show, and a unappreciated and covetous Kyoko watches on, the red roses that previously replaced Shoko in the disappearing act is noted as a precursor to her imminent death; a horrific accident involving a sealed box and blazing fire, the cause of which Higata blames solely upon Kyoko.

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Emblematic of the visual unsettlement Miike is renowned for, one peculiar sequence, midway through the film, details Higata’s decade long retribution for shoko’s death. As an exhausted Kyoko sprawls out in the familiar gelid field, in which she was previously seen squeezed inside the coiling subterranean trap, a collection of close-ups that detail the hands of Higata, as he unclothes, caresses and contorts a play doll resembling his daughter, intercut the image. Mirroring the opening scenes, the camera once again glides across the central character’s body as Higata dominates the model, straining the legs in positions only a flexible gymnasts body could cope with. As we alternate between the two divergent scenes, the torture upon the miniature reproduction of Kyoko, heard through the spine-chilling sounds effects of bone fracturing, increases, and so do the ambiguous moans. As the central character clutches the groin region on her dress – a slight and almost unnoticed gesture that pushes the story into taboo territory – the portrayal of utter despair, which is presumably an indication of the guilt Kyoko suffers from the accidental death of her twin sister, alters to what appears to be a sign of sexual gratification, caused by the metaphorical infliction of physical pain at, literally, the hands of her father.

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The majority of the visuals displayed throughout the convoluted narrative, traversing between the real, the memory and the imagined, hold an uncanny resemblance to one another and eventually begin to piece together, that is, however, until the penultimate sequence in Kyoko’s bedroom. Without giving the game away, all explanation of the central character’s entrapping perceptions become unfounded through one minimal adjustment of the camera. On reflection, certain words, images, and displays of emotion, hold many contradictory meanings. Firstly, and most intriguing, are all of the visions we observe exclusive to the psyche of the central character? And secondly, is Kyoko crestfallen as a consequence of her nonviable relationship with another lover? This would explain the central character’s abnormal sexual desires for Higata. Combined with Miike’s daring utilization of slow-moving and sombre cinematography, sporadic retraction of sound, and fleeting moments of dialogue, this hushed psychological terror will briefly trap you inside a harrowing world of jealousy, remorse, paraphilia and vengeance. Admittedly, after the many scenes of arbitrary, some viewers may feel like they are sedated in a hospital bed, with only the ticking of a clock to keep themselves occupied.

The next Satori Screen screening, on the 23rd October, is Satoshi Kon’s (Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers) PAPRIKA. As ever the film will be introduced by Satori Screen Programmer Peter Munford. And during October all the Fringes film screenings are 2-4-1 for students, so don’t miss out.

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