Director Takashi Shimizu may not have invented the J-horror template, but his haunted-house opus, Ju-on (and, to a lesser extent, Shimizu's 2004 Americanized cover version, The Grudge), certainly refined the genre's basic tricks and filmmaking tropes. Now that those ghost-story conventions are threatening to calcify into clichs—seriously, how many more pale, dark-haired female spirits running amok do we need?—Shimizu's latest release wisely finds him giving the stock spooks-run-wild narrative a temporary rest.
Marebitoconcerns a cameraman (cult director Tsukamoto) who, after inadvertently taping a suicide, becomes obsessed with an underground labyrinth beneath Tokyo's subways. When the requisite Japanese gamine (Miyashita) shows up, she's not a specter but a feral child stuck in the bowels of hell; the videographer renames her F and brings her to his home. Then things start getting squirrelly—mysterious figures show up claiming that the girl may be our hero's daughter, and the only thing that F craves is her benefactor's personal O-positive supply.
An Orpheus myth in reverse, Shimizu's foray into macabre fantasy is dense with obscure references (paranoid oddball Richard Shaver and the "hollow earth" theory get namechecked) and rife with existential dread. But while the director eschews the cookie-cutter Asian cinema scares now available in spades, he's retained J-horror's preference for creepiness at the expense of coherence. After the nth offbeat element is introduced, left unexplained and then abandoned, the abundant amount of head-scratching starts to outweigh the spine-tingling. (Opens Fri; Angelika.)