EM Embalming
(Region 1 Edition)

Starring: Reiko Takashima, Yataka Matsushige and Seijun Suzuki
Artsmagic Ltd
RRP US $24.95
ATU 021
Certificate: Not Rated (US)
Available 28 June 2005 (USA)

Miyako is an embalmer who likes to attend the scene of the death of each of her customers. When the head of her latest client, a young male who committed suicide, is stolen after she has embalmed the body she is soon dragged into a mysterious world where nothing is what it seems.

The significance of the subject matter in EM Embalming (or Enbamingu to give it it's original title), only really takes shape when you know that embalming is not an activity that is carried out much in Japan. The movie opens up with facts about how this way of preserving the remains of loved ones was originally introduced to America. It also goes into detail about how many people are embalmed in the US.

It transpires that Miyako has been fascinated by embalming since she attended her mother's funeral. Her mother had died whilst abroad and was shipped back to her country already embalmed and Miyako was surprised at how 'alive' she looked. This fascination eventually turned into a career.

For reasons that are never explained, Miyako has a working relationship with a detective. When there is a death he calls her in, as she likes to see the body in the position it is discovered. It seemed such an odd way to do her work, and it would have been interesting if this has been delved into a little deeper. Why does she attend the scene of the crime in the opening shot? What can she possibly hope to garner from the scene that will help her do her job more efficiently?

Everything moves along smoothly until the head of the body is stolen and a phone call for Miyako warns her not to proceed with her "evil" job - it seems that someone does not approve of embalming. Then, everything races out of control and the director seems to have a problem keeping hold of the reigns.

Some of the scenes are comical without really meaning to be. When, what appears to be, the corpse of a young man is having its insides removed for black market organ transplantation, the organs look unreal and quite comical. This is then made all the more bizarre by the discovery that the boy is not dead (despite being nicely sliced open and having hardly any organs left). I was unsure as to whether director Shinji Aoyama was spoofing popular Japanese horror movies of the time like Ring (EM Embalming was released in 1999), or whether he was genuinely trying to shock.

It's far from a bad movie and is refreshingly original when compared to the other horror movies on the market. And there are plenty of twists to keep you guessing until the end. It's just that this could have been so much more engaging if the director had lightened it up a tad.

The result is very much like an embalmer's work, take a messy scenario and try and dress it up as something with substance. But, pick away at the surface and the reality soon shows itself.

Extras include a 20 minute interview with the director; additional audio commentary Jasper Sharp, co-author of The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film; and a collection of biographies for six of the cast and crew.

Pete Boomer

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$22.45 (Amazon.com)
Widescreen - Region 1 Edition

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