MPD Psycho (2000)
MPD Psycho is a tv mini-series directed by Takashi Miike and based on a manga. It tells the story of... well, it's not an easy one to summarise. We have a detective with Multiple Personalities, for a start. One of his personalities is an expert in psychological profiling. We have a serial killer in the first episode, whose signature is to put a flower in the lobotomised head of his victims and plant them. Aspects of the murder suggest a connection to a previous case five years ago, involving the detective, his girlfriend and at least one of his personalities. Certain aspects also suggest there may be a connection to a case from 25 years earlier in America, perpetrated by the so called "Flower Bomber" and rock star Lu-C Monostone. What's really odd, though, is that all the victims have a barcode on their left eyeball. Actually this is just the beginning of a very strange (and complicated) story indeed.
At 6 episodes of about an hour each, Miike has more chance to explore the world of the manga than a feature-length film would give him, and the result is a fascinating and compelling experience, albeit a confusing one. The case takes the detective and his partners through a number of different environments that each seem to explore an aspect of Japan's sometimes bizarre culture. The world in which it takes place is definitely not ordinary "reality", a fact which Miike makes clear through the superposition of strange neon green grain in quite a few scenes.
Miike is used to making the most out of a low budget, but for this six episode series he probably had the same (or less) money as he'd put into a feature film, so it definitely looks like a tv series - shot on video, mostly natural light and cheap special effects. One aspect which is the subject of endless debate is the use of pixellation/static over a lot of the "gore". The R1 dvd case claims this was because of TV censorship laws, and that they tried to get the uncensored footage but it "no longer exists". The latter part of this is clearly untrue since much of it can be found on the Japanese dvds as "extras". The former part also seems to be untrue - although the law may have been a factor, it seems clear that the effect was used deliberately by Miike. When you see the uncensored footage it's pretty clear it was never meant to be seen that way. Part of the reason may have been to critique the censorship laws (some things are "censored" quite arbitrarily), but I suspect the main reason was to force the viewer to use their imagination - since it can produce far more disturbing images than Miike's budget could afford.
"Disturbing" is definitely a word that applies to this series, though more because of the ideas than violence/gore - there are some quite alarming ideas. The series gives the viewer plenty to ponder about - as usual, Miike does not choose to spell things out, giving hints about what is happening and what it all means... which, given the complexity and oddity of the story line is perhaps not enough to go on. There is a scene in the final episode where one of the detectives does have a brief "here's what I've figured out" recap, but even still there were things I didn't pick up until I did a bit of reading up after it was finished (Wikipedia has a fairly useful summary!). It all felt like it made sense as it went along though, as long as you don't try to make sense of it as events occuring in this exact version of reality. Or something.
Definitely not one for everyone, but for the Miike fan this is essential viewing.