Midnight Eye
the latest and best in Japanese cinema
home interviews features film reviews book reviews calendar links about contact
Format viewed: cinema
picture: Marronnier (2004) picture: Marronnier (2004)
Original title
Miyako KOGA
Running time
79 mins.
picture: Marronnier (2004)
by Nicholas Rucka

Marronnier might be French for chestnut tree, but it's Japanese for twisted karaoke video- doll-slasher-movie. Styled to feel like a horror manga, the film speeds through vignettes of violence, unintentional non-sequiturs, abstract characterization, bizarro conversations and stilted puppet animation with cheesy horrific abandon.

Marino is your average young Japanese lady. She likes hanging out with her friends, brushing her teeth and doting over her Marronnier doll. The doll, however, has been created by an evil genius that kidnaps women, uses a machine to turn them into wax and sculpts the wax into dolls in the deceased's likeness. But it doesn't end there. The mad doll-maker's assistant, Numai, is even freakier. He stalks Marino, kidnaps her (and her friends), fails to seduce her, gets rebuffed, laughs like a maniac and tries to melt them into wax!

But that's before his other doll 'creations' come to life and attack him…

Shot, directed, written, edited, composed, performed and post-produced by Hideyuki Kobayashi, Marronnier is one of the most… unique… Japanese horror films of recent memory. The decision to execute the film as if it were a manga brought to screen is an interesting one that is realized by dividing the film into a bunch of mini-scenes. Doing so, through the heavy (over) reliance on fading to and from black, helps propel the film at a hectic pace form gore scene to gore scene. The result, though, is that Kobayashi throws so much information and action at us that we don't have time to absorb what few plot specifics that there are. We are instead left with an outline of what the emotional stakes are and a vague idea of where the action has to go.

Marronnier, then, is a visceral viewing experience. However, it ultimately operates less as a film structured in a 'manga style' of storytelling - so called evoking the feeling of reading a horror manga - but instead feels like we are flipping through a comic. Surprisingly this is enough for us to get the gist of the story and to maintain our interest. This is not to say that the film is a profound work by any stretch of the imagination but its low-budget horror aesthetic ultimately satisfies with what we like best in budget horror: gore, stupidity, seemingly random scenes (the 'huh?' factor), and kitsch!

Make no mistake, Marronnier isn't a masterwork; but the sincerity of the production is endearing: Kobayashi clearly loves working with dolls. The flick is a solo labor of love and he, alone, is responsible for what we see on screen. That sort of energy permeates the film and regardless of whether you like the product or not, it's clear that an immensely creative person is at work here.

Hideyuki Kobayashi seems to be aware of his technical and stylistic limitations, but doesn't let that stop him. He's made Marronnier without any excuses or irony and as a result it might not be for everyone: Marronnier is more Frank Henenlotter than Hideo Nakata. This is NOT a ko-gal horror flick like Stacy or Suicide Club! The actors are all adult men and women, with some of them being popular manga artists. Furthermore, manga maniac Junji Ito, with Kobayashi sculpting the actual figures, designed the dolls. So you know something special is going on with this film. Marronnier is as much mocking the teen horror genre, as referencing it-but it is not a part of it.

So if you're ready for a trashy good time, my recommendation is to get a group of friends together, have some beers and laugh with this freaked-out late-night B-movie in horror doll-land. The music alone is worth the cost of admission! (And for the record, the title "Marronnier" apparently has no special meaning; it just seemed like a good name for the doll in the film.)

copyright 2001-2005 Midnight Eye