Right, let’s cut to the chase quickly.
Marino (Mayu) lives with her puppeteer brother Kurataro (Hideyuki Kobayashi) in a house. She also loves dolls and has a particular favourite who she calls Marronnier, but little does she know that Marronnier has a secret. ZOMG! Also her best friend Mitsuba (Misao Inagaki) secretly loves her. Elsewhere a young man by the name of Numai (Hiroto Nakayama) is committing murder all over the place, preying on school girls mainly and cutting them to ribbons, sometimes taking them to a secret lair that holds a bizarre machine that turns them into waxy dolls. But there’s something about these dolls, something not quite dead. Soon Marino is caught up in Numai’s evil scheme - to make her into the very thing she loves so dearly (which seems to be brushing her teeth heavily, but he doesn’t want to turn her into a toothbrush).
I hate dolls more than I hate sprouts, and that’s quite a lot. So I think I’d much rather see a horror film about sprouts which leaves the message that we’re all consumed by the food we hate. Plus they don’t make any good vegetable horrors these days. I’m not entirely sure if Hideyuki Kobayashi’s Marronnier has any moral value; it only attempts to conjure up some profound statement at the end when Sayoko utters some nonsense about how boys can never understand girl’s dreams and that they’ll never be able to destroy them no matter how hard they try. That dream in question is having an unhealthy obsession over ridiculously large and hideously sculpted pre-pubescent teen looking marionettes that cost the equivalent of £2000.
If I’m to be honest I had to watch Marronnier twice, because I found it to be quite a mess. On the basis of the performances and the god awful script it seems to be unintentionally hilarious, but then Kobayashi will throw in a curve ball by defying logic and present scenes of an almost parodying/tongue in cheek nature. Upon checking my notes I found that surely all of this madness had to be intentional and if not, well, sod it. Take for instance the showdown toward the end when the blue-eyed Mitsuba squares off against Numai; stripping down to a pink ninja/pirate style attire and wielding a huge axe, or the moments in which Numai magically conjures up ridiculously large sledgehammers and rope out of thin air. Furthermore incidental plot points are quite lazy, but oddly enjoyable: one scene has a woman dragging a dead body home in broad daylight through a street without getting noticed, while later on Numai proves to be the ultimate master in time management, not only making a puppet out of Marino’s brother within minutes, but also finding time to bandage up his head while running through the woods after getting his eye gouged out by Mitsuba. But best of all is a line delivered during the final act when Marino is fleeing Numai’s pad. When she hears a voice calling her name she turns around and sees Ichijyo’s head in a bucket and asks in a terrified manner “What are you doing there?” It’s a laugh out loud moment. I dunno if it was supposed to be, but if it entertained all the same then the director has done something right.
The trouble is that Kobayashi isn’t all too forthcoming in showing us what kind of film he’s trying to make. It’s too difficult to fully label it as a satire/parody and way too difficult to lump it into the horror genre. And because he spends so long fannying about with insignificant details he glosses over the importance of his characters, of which there are many who fleet in and out, in turn making for a picture lacking in sympathy and overall solid development. Now I know this begs the question “Does a horror film have to include character development and make us care for any victims?” and to that I’d say well yes, in this instance perhaps it should. See he establishes relationships but only touches upon them for all of mere seconds: Mitsuba being in love with her best friend; Marino, her brother and his girlfriend Sayoko, who is terribly handled to the point that she becomes easily confused with Marino; even the idiot stalker deserved some kind of exposition. It becomes difficult to care over who gets maimed or otherwise and it seems obvious that due to the nature of Marino and her dolls that we are supposed to. It’s more a case of ambition getting the better of him as he bites off a little more than he can chew with writing, editing, music, photography and directing duties.
It’s clear however that Kobayashi is attempting to emulate the Junji Ito comic books he so obviously admires, even going so far as to recreate characters from previous Ito works, but more notably lensing his picture as if it were a comic in motion: scenes that play out like vignettes, complete with much used fade outs and cuts. Ito, famed for his Tomie series and the divine Uzumaki also lent a helping hand as supervising producer and doll designer, which is admirable but sadly futile. Ito’s original and fairly attractive drawings manifest on screen as grotesque wax creatures; gratuitous big-eyed manga interpretations with twelve year-old breasts (even Iwata’s recreation of his deceased wife - who he killed by the way) that are rather bafflingly referred to as being beautiful creations. They’re even fetishized to the point of being given their very own pervy end credit sequence in which they’re dolled up in skimpy gear and placed in provocative poses. As the centre pieces to Kobayashi’s tale they’re not creepy enough in a true horror sense or applied effectively during various character run-ins to help drive the narrative along, which leaves some alternative methods in providing shocks. The director sets up some outlandish set pieces involving Numai as he makes short work of his victims, while elsewhere he echoes a little bit of Edogawa Rampo in scenes relating to Blind Beast. Try as hard as he might, and indeed he does appear to be trying very hard, he fails to generate any kind of tension and it doesn’t help when the film is backed by a bubbly and loopy-arsed score, which admittedly is one of the better aspects of the production and if anything aids the rather surreal approach that Ito is famous for employing in his work. Of course he’s restricted with digital cameras and they do nothing but help deliver a stilted looking film. Worse still he adds all kinds of trickery to try and make it look just that little bit more filmic and perhaps surreal, but someone needs to tell him that a significant display of blooming looks rubbish, plain and simple.
The true horrors though come from the acting itself, which is simply diabolical, though perhaps not surprising given that several members are manga artists, such as Misao Inagaki who more famously adapted Koji Suzuki’s Ringu and Ochazukenori, who appears in a somewhat awkward cameo. And we’ll probably never see them on screen ever again. Shame ’cause Inagaki is really attractive. As for Kobayashi he also stars as Marino’s brother, taking on a role that pretty much reflects his own life as a performer with the Koganemushi Scarabee puppet theatre, whereby he uses cutesy puppets mixed with surreal humour. But maybe I’m being a little unfair toward everybody here. They seem to ham it up and acknowledge the script’s absurdities. Kobayashi obviously doesn’t care that they can’t act for shit as long as they scream and gurn like they’re supposed to. Hell, I’ve seen worse from A-listers from time to time.
While Marronnier is given a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer it’s unfortunately another victim of a standards conversion, which leaves plenty in the way of ghosting. Given the free nature of Kobayashi’s camera work there’s often plenty of movement so you can imagine how poor it looks on a HD display, coupled with the fact that it’s shot on digital tape. The switch to DVD hasn’t been kind; there’s plenty of artificial noise and slight compression artefacts; black levels and shadow detail are pretty much abysmal, lacking fine detail and thus rendering darker scenes almost useless. Colour levels appear natural enough however, with decent flesh tones and a certain vibrancy during some of the more chirpy outdoor scenes.
In something of a rarity Terra provides a Japanese 5.1 Surround mix in addition to a Japanese 2.0 track. The 5.1 mix has a little more oomph, but separation isn’t exactly wonderful, though it’s adequate at pumping out the quirky score and raising levels during some of the pacier moments. The main problem with both tracks is that they’re slightly out of sync, with the 2.0 one faring slightly better than its surround counterpart. It could be a by-product of the original but all the same it can be slightly distracting. Dialogue sounds quite hollow at times, but it’s clear and doesn’t present any major distractions.
Optional English subtitles are also provided and aside from a couple of grammatical errors such as “Made your dream came true” they do the job nicely.
Terra has done a nice job in acquiring some decent extras for this release. First up are two trailers, one long and one short. They’re more like TV spots and make the film look like a lot of fun. Behind the Scenes (3.52) is your typical fluff piece; there’s nothing insightful, just a bunch of clips mainly featuring Mayu being put through her paces. Deleted Scenes (3.15) are presented as originally filmed, meaning they’ve not been through any filtering process and generally look cleaner. There are smidgens of character development, but on the whole they’re rubbish and add very little to the story, hence the obvious cuts I guess. There’s a Doll Gallery (4.00) which features disturbing nudey pics of dolls, if you’re into that kinda thing, while the Image Gallery (2.48) features Junji Ito designs and promotional stills. The most interesting piece, however, is The Legends of Marronnier Short Film (6.53). With no dialogue and just a bunch of dolls literally squealing, I had no idea what was going on. Something about a giant head attacking dolls, and then two super dolls (who I think are lesbians) fly out of their mansion and have a fight with it using their special powers; so I'm not entirely sure what’s so legendary. Rounding off the disc is a collection of Terra trailers.
Marronnier is a ropey, yet passionate movie that has good intentions and a decent fill of chuckles, intentional or not, which is why I’m scoring it a little higher than it deserves to be. It’s a pet project that director Hideyuki Kobayashi has fun with, but it’s not one that he’s skilled enough to pull off 100%. Nonetheless it’s a strangely compelling thing to witness. He does still throw too much in our face and he stumbles many times, but he has the tenacity to keep going and see things through. I’m not sure if this film will become an underground favourite or simply fall into obscurity. It most certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but you could do worse. Believe me.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 02:56:19