A six-part miniseries directed by Takashi Miike, MPD Psycho is based
on a particularly graphic manga series. The television series has picked up on
the wacky, extreme gore of the manga, but there's a catch. In fact, there are a
few major catches and potential deal-breakers in this seriously screwed up entry
from the Japanese master of the bizarre.
I'm going to try to explain the story as best I can. A serial killer named
Shinji Nishozono is dead, but his essence can be transferred digitally, which he
uses to infect various hosts. These cases are dealt with by a detective named
Amamiya (Naoki Hosaka, Salaryman Kintaro), whose name is really Kobayashi
but he developed a multiple personality when he witnessed his wife get murdered
by Nishozono. So, now they are after the digital ghost of the serial killer, who
seems to be connected to a group of people with bar codes on their eyeballs and
a singer named Lucy Monostone, whose single neo-psychedelic song is played
multiple times each episode. Much oddness ensues.
If you are like me, you get excited to hear about a serial killer miniseries
from Miike, a visionary director and expert in strange and disturbing subject
matter. "How could this go wrong?" I asked myself as I slid the first
disc into the player. Well, let's count the ways:
1. It makes no sense.
Now, I know I've had this complaint with a few
of Miike's films before, but this is really getting silly now. Long
quasi-philosophical conversations, characters who are several people at once,
strange cultural humor, and wonky visuals combine to create a frustrating
viewing experience. It starts to come together a bit more towards the end, but I
like to be fed a bit of logic before I get four hours into a miniseries.
2. The censoring
In order to make this gorefest possible on Japanese
television, Miike had to censor anything (as is always true there) that showed
genitalia. In order to make a political statement, he also censored out
instances of graphic violence and gore. As an adaptation of one of the most
graphic manga series ever, it means a lot of things are blocked out by static.
In fact, all of the crime scenes, murder victims, shock moments, and major plot
twists seem to be blocked out. BCI claimed that it was impossible to find an
uncensored copy, which is probably the truth, but it still makes a confusing
experience even more frustrating. Imagine watching Seven with all of the
seven deadly sins covered up with static.
3. The yawn-inducing script.
You would expect a serial murder thriller
series to be full of action, excitement, and shocks. In this case, you'd be
wrong. I fell asleep through several of the episodes, waiting for something
interesting to happen on screen. When it finally did, it was censored out. Call
me old fashioned, but I like to have some horror and thrills in my
4. The cheesy special effects.
When the characters of MPD
Psycho aren't sitting around talking, they are standing around talking in
green digital rain, or watching censored snuff videos with terrible looking
digital noise that's supposed to represent cheap film stock. If we ever do get a
glimpse at gore or blood, it's so poorly done that it almost makes us wish it
was censored too. The burning bodies of episode 5 are particularly bad, with
flat low-budget fire effects overlaid onto screaming, waving characters. I
haven't seen anything this fake since the mid '90s.
5. The acting.
Everyone in MPD Psycho is either all the way off
or all the way on. There is no middle ground. Hosaka plays his role like he's
battling a bad hangover, and most of the other characters act as though they're
going to have bad hangovers the following day. We jump back and forth between
the turgid police investigations and the downright manic digital killers. It
makes the series harder to watch, and harder to connect with. Miike seems
insistent to make this a series that wants to hold its audience at arm's
6. The DVD
I expect that BCI didn't get much to work with in the way
of a print for this release, but that doesn't change the fact that this is one
ugly looking DVD. Presented in letterboxed widescreen, it features some of the
problems I didn't expect to see again in DVD. The reds bleed across the screen,
curved surfaces are terribly blocky, and motion causes all sorts of strange
artifacts. The mono sound track is pretty bland too. To be fair, BCI did give a
solid effort for special features, which are housed on the fourth disc. There
are a slew of interviews, most of which say absolutely nothing. Special effects
featurettes reveal both how the special effects (that we didn't see) were done,
and what they would have looked like if they hadn't been censored. Beyond that,
it's just a collection of promotional material and a strange music video.
I'm sure some people will disagree with me on this one. If you love weird
Miike films and get your jollies from the strangeness of gruesome visuals
whether you can see them or not, you will probably have the patience to have
some fun with this series. It does have some disturbing moments, after all, and
fans of the manga will enjoy seeing how the story comes to life. For most,
though, this series represents a complete and total waste of time. Go read the
manga if you must, but I'd recommend getting your freaky Japanese kicks
elsewhere. This series is screwed up in all the wrong ways.
For subjecting me to this boredom, I hope Miike gets the Lucy Monostone song
stuck in his head for the rest of his life.