MarronnierThis shot on video J-Horror fest sucks, but does contain some arrestingly weird imagery. I’ll give it a partial recommendation, but again, for the most part MARRONNIER sucks.

This 2004 film was adapted from a manga by Junji Ito, whose horrific and bizarre work also inspired films like LONG DREAM (2000), UZUMAKI (2000) and the long-running TOMIE series. As for MARRONNIER’S writer/producer/director/designer Hideyuki Kobayashi, he has no other credits (at least according to the imdb)…and based on the quality of the film, I can’t say I’m too surprised.

The madness begins with a type of doll called a Marronnier. Two schoolgirl friends, Marino and Mitsuba, are obsessed with Marronniers, not realizing that the dolls are made by a demented individual who uses actual women as raw materials. Apparently the man hit upon the idea after killing his wife and attempting to submerge her body in a swamp, whose water turned the gal’s skin to wax. He subsequently built a machine filled with the swamp water that he now uses on the local female population—which explains the many suspicious young woman disappearances that have plagued the area!

What the man hasn’t taken into account is the danger posed by his young assistant Numai. The latter is certifiably nuts, and a stalker to boot: he takes to following Marino and Mitsuba around and manages to lure them to the underground lair where his master creates his dolls.

By this point Numai has gone completely batshit, and kills his master so he’ll have Marino and Mitsuba to himself. They’re left to contend with an increasingly surreal universe of living—and often homicidal—dolls, and Numai’s own insanity. Only one of the girls will survive with her humanity intact…and even that is far from certain!

I’ll confess I’m not entirely sure how accurate that plot summary is—and I’ve watched the film twice! The whole thing is so haphazardly constructed it’s often a chore simply discerning what’s going on from one scene to the next. Writer/director Hideyuki Kobayashi appears fully aware of his deficiencies as a storyteller, and so packs the film with distorted lenses, slow and fast motion, music video interludes, etc. All any of this does is confuse matters further, making for an irritatingly self-conscious eighty minutes. There’s some gore, but it’s so cheap and unconvincing-looking that it’s probably better off unmentioned.

As stated above, what little worth this film has is due to its bizarre doll imagery. Most of it occurs in the final scenes, in which human-sized Barbi-esque living dolls, complete with metal jointed elbows and knees, chase each other, get killed and even make out. The influence of UZUMAKI’S Junji Ito is evident in the nightmarishness of the images, accomplished through a mixture of live action, animation and sophisticated model-work. It’s almost enough to make one forget the silliness and confusion of the rest of the film…but not quite!

Vital Statistics

Tidepoint Pictures

Director/Producer/Screenplay: Hideyuki Kobayashi
Cast: Yuriko Anjho, Miyako Cojima, Mizuki Hikaru, Hime, Haruna Hoshino, Niwa Igehara, Misao Inagaki, Takanori Kagami, Kakyo, Asami Kobayashi, Hideyuki Kobayashi