A tad convoluted, and a little under-budgeted...
Shaun | Minneapolis, MN USA | 05/13/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Embamingu is a murder mystery/thriller-esque film where a high school student named Yoshiki Shindo, (Masatoshi Matsuo; he plays Toshio Yabe three years later in Kyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo), who mysteriously falls from a building and dies. We join the film as Detective Hiraoka (Yutaka Matsushige) is surveying the scene from the rooftop. He calls a friend, who happens to be the local hospital's embalmer, Miyako Murakami (Reiko Takashima) to witness a freshly dead body, which for some reason she has wanted. Miyako's morbid fascination aside, the skeptical detective prefers to treat the case as a murder and thus begins the long, winding road into EM: Embalming.
In short order we're treated to an up close and personal look at the embalming process as Miyako and her assistant (a role deftly handled by fellow director Seijun Suzuki; Pistol Opera) poke and prod the life-like corpse with scalpels and heavy machinery designed to empty and replace the body's blood supply. A powerful local Buddhist Chief named Jion inserts himself into the fray on behalf of Yoshiki's family to denounce the embalming process as sacrilege, completely against Buddhist Doctrine. But Jion's motives are less than honorable or straightforward. He attracts much attention after Yoshiki's head is stolen off of the body, which is still at the hospital. And one of Yoshiki's girlfriends, who had serious issues of her own, becomes a player in the game when she turns up, first at the crime scene, and then with what appears to be Yoshiki's doppleganger. Things really get complex when Detective Hiraoka follows up on a tip concerning the trafficking of human body parts and a reclusive, discredited surgeon named Mr. Fuji is implicated in the illegal trafficking.
How and why was the son of a powerful city councilman killed? Who is behind it? Miyako & Detective Hiraoka will put their careers and lives on the line to crack the case and expose the truth.
*****Possible SPOILERS Below
Embalmingu is a tough nut to crack, review-wise. It raises questions about the ethically of embalming in the guise of a thriller/crime drama. It's rather weak premise facilitates an argument that the movie has with itself concerning which is right, the practice of embalming or the Buddhist way of letting the physical body return to the Earth naturally. At the root of EM's message is a timeless question and one everyone has wrestled with at some point: What does is mean to die and is there a 'correct' way to handle the human body? Catholics have a fairly strict set of criteria, Buddhists have their own criteria, as do Christians in general. Where does science fit in? Or should it?
EM tackles this issue head on, albeit in a sloppy, sometimes haphazard manner. At one point, I likened EM to a lengthy public service announcement. It's half-hearted screenplay/dialogue often seems as if it were written by the Public Relations Department of Japan's Embalming Concern. I made that department up, but only to illustrate my point. There are several instances where the "advocacy" for embalming became heavy-handed and sort of preachy. Miyako, obviously, is fairly cavalier about preserving the body for those extra few days for funeral purposes and for family closure; she's the "pro" voice. Jion is the more traditional voice, as he quotes Buddhist teachings and even though his motives cast a suspecting shadow on the weight of this view, he's is the opposing view in this movie. The youth in the film seem to be completely clueless to what embalming is, yet strive to embrace it, and the movie seems to step up in a manner as to serve as their professor. When Yoshiki dies, Rika believes she can be reunited with him through embalming; believing that he can be reanimated or something. Kind of ridiculous, isn't it. You'll get used to it with EM.
That's not to say it's a bad movie, by any means. Fans of bloody, stomach turning gore will jump for joy. At one especially gruesome point during the opening scene, we see the busted skull being packed, with what appears to be cotton, and then dried and the section of bone replaced. Miyako and her assistant (who looks like the classic old, wise, white-haired sensei of yore) perform Yoshiki's embalming under the close scrutiny of the camera. I can't describe the realism of the corpse up there on the embalming table other than "cringe-inducing & spine-shivering". Some of the gore is a tad cheesy, but thankfully stops short of being comical. The major problem I have with EM is that most of the movie's revelations occur during a long-winded diatribes that had me rolling my eyes and wishing the writers would have cut some of the redundancies and used that time to develop those via action and genuine character development. Also, some of the sub-plots had me just wondering, "Why?". Particularly the "Miyako's father" stuff. I suppose it was meant to be that character development I spoke of earlier, but I felt that particular angle was slightly unnecessary and superfluous. The scenes themselves are necessary though. You'll see why.
In closing, Embamingu is definitely a unique, but flawed, film that raises great questions about life & death, and attempts to take a stand. I can't argue with EM's pluckiness and even though it's not my particular brand of horror, it's worth a look...or two; so as to allow some of it to make a little more sense.
You Might Want To Pass This One Up!
Ernest Jagger | Culver City, California | 09/20/2007
(1 out of 5 stars)
""Embalming," is not only a terrible film, but it is also dismal and depressing. In the beginning of the film, the viewer is given a history about the practice of embalming. Why it is practiced in the West? And why is it embraced by so few in the East? Many philosophical areas are explored in the film, and quite frankly, I stopped really caring after the first 30 minutes. Those who like a lot of gore in their films, however, will probably like this film. However, those who like the creepy nuances and suggestion of horror in their thrillers will probably be wise to look elsewhere.
I almost got the impression that Director Shinji Aoyama did not really want a good and suspenseful plot, but rather a convoluted thriller mixed with a lot of gore. This is simple enough to do--witness all of the terrible horrors and thrillers on the market today. It is much more difficult to create a film where the active imagination of the viewer is given glimpses of terror, and the suggestion or nuances of terror that really define a good thriller or horror are then introduced. Which is why so many horror, suspense, and thrillers fall flat for me.
The film stars an embalmer named Miyako (Reiko Takashima) who has aspired her whole life to be a great embalmer. This due to the fact that her mother was embalmed in the USA, and she still harbors memories of her mother in her casket with the look of one who is asleep. For her, the duty of an embalmer is to make the body as perfect as possible. Yet, there has been a suicide of a young man that will take her to the extreme dark recesses of the human soul. Plus, factor in the lengths others will go to in order to see that she does not succeed in her professional occupation will test her.
Enter, Jion. He is a priest of a religious sect who sees embalming as anathema to ones spiritual journey in death. Moreover, he is politically active with a sect of religious cohorts who are trying to wield political power, as the young suicide victim is the son of a very important and powerful political figure in Japan. The viewer is also introduced to another equally important player. His name is Dr. Fuji, and his connection to the recent suicide of the young man is of utmost importance. Moreover, this is the same embalmer who embalmed the mother of Miyako. His embalming techniques are skillful, and Miyako wishes to know more about his most bizarre techniques.
All parties will eventually clash in this silly little thriller. I did not expect much when I purchased this film years ago, however, I bought it along with a dozen or more other films at a great price. One look on the cover, and reading the synopsis of the film told me this was going to be a bad film. One more thing about this film too: The cinematography is bad. There are many dark spots in the film, and I found this to be really distracting. There are much better Japanese thrillers out there. I do not recommend this film, moreover, it is not even worth a rent."