MPD Psycho - Volume 1 (2000)
By: M. Walsh on October 11, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). Japanese DD 2.0. 107 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Naoki Hosaka, Tomoko Nakajima, Ren Osugi, Rieko Miura, Chiaki Kuriyama
Screenplay: Eiji Ootsuka
Country: Japan
Based on the 1997 Manga of the same name, Takashi Miike's MPD-Psycho is a six-part mini-series very much in the darkly surreal vein of Lars Von Trier's astonishing Riget (The Kingdom). The playground where these two play football is the same one from which Twin Peaks was sent home for not being weird enough. Riget and MPD-Psycho share a fervent disregard for linearity, a healthy obsession with unsavory medical details and a knack for constructing brilliant, extended set-pieces. In terms of story lines, though, the two couldn't be further apart.

A cogent synopsis of MPD-Psycho is, quite frankly, a near impossibility. I will try my best and, if this all becomes a tad confusing, you can at least be safe in the knowledge that it will still make more sense than large portions of the episodes themselves.

The shock of discovering his wife's mutilated corpse triggered a split in Yousuke Kobayashi's (Naoki Hosaka) personality. Initially a police officer working with the homicide squad, Kobayashi became Kazuhiko Amamiya, a crack shot criminal profiler. It was as Amamiya that the titular MPD-Psycho was able to track down his wife's killer, the very nasty indeed Shinji Nishizono. After murdering Nishizonzo, Amamiya went into early retirement, shrugging off the misfortune in his past and, eventually re-marrying.
Five years pass. Amamiya is approached by an old police buddy, Tooru Sasayama (Ren Osugi), who asks him to come out of retirement and help profile a killer who is turning women into human flower-pots. Amamiya refuses. Yet when his wife goes missing, and with talk of the long-dead Nishizono somehow being involved in the murders, it isn't long before MPD-Psycho is donning his stylish forensic gloves once more and digging around in the eviscerated remains of one victim or another.

There is so much more going on in these first two episodes that it would take as long to write about them as they would to watch. Most of the fun is derived from trying to ascertain which story threads, if any, the ever reliable Miike will decide to tie up. I'll be honest and admit that I was well and truly bewildered after watching Episode One, but this is a series that reveals itself gradually. And even though many questions remained unanswered when the second episode had run its course, I could definitely see the faintest glimmer of light at the end of the six-hour tunnel. There are times, however, when MPD-Psycho becomes obtuse to the point of incomprehension, and this is coming from a guy who has an above-average tolerance for the stubbornly avant garde. Just something to keep in mind.

While I'm nit-picking, I suppose I should mention the much-touted "pixelation" that crops up periodically throughout the series. Much in the same way that Miike "censored" certain moments of sexualised nudity in Visitor Q (a masterpiece in its own right) he has also chosen to "blur" some of the gore in this. I think that this is as much an artistic choice as it is a response to Japanese broadcasting standards and, at any rate, MPD-Psycho would never make it onto Australian television, even in its present form. I should also add that some of the most graphic footage in the episodes (most notably the snuff videos that play on a particular character's televisions) remain intact, and that Miike quite often cuts back to an uncensored shot of what was previously pixelated just to let us know what we were missing.

The only other, very mild, grievances were the occasional "dead body whose eyes flutter under their lids" and a few appearances of our old friend; the boom mike. I am not a brave enough man to suggest that either of these were unintentional mistakes and, even if they were, I don't think that Takashi Miike would particularly care so don't let them ruin your enjoyment either. Ditto the annoying habit of character's referring to Amamiya's condition as "schizophrenia". I choose to believe that this is a subtitling error and not an oversight on the part of the writers.

Now, onto the pros. This is completely, utterly brilliant. Breathtakingly so. And it seems to be getting better with each episode. There are scenes here that literally burn with invention and vitality. Each time the story seems to be unraveling, Miike opens the bag and shows us a whisker, and with a series as imaginative and energetic as this, that whisker is enough. This isn't J-Horror, so please don't make that mistake. This is a police story, a supernatural thriller, a comedy and an exercise in experimental art. There are horror elements, yes. But you won't find any little girls with long black hair or demonic contortionists here, and we should all be very thankful for that.
This is a really ugly transfer. This could be due to the nature of the source material (the series was shot on Beta) but I seriously doubt it. Blacks are merely a conduit for, literally, insane amounts of artefacts. Edge enhancement and aliasing are both off the charts. There is an inhernet jerkiness to the image as well, almost as if we are watching an NTSC signal through a PAL display. Without an import copy to compare it to, I can't say for sure whether these problems would be inherent in all releases. To add insult to paralysis, the box claims that the image is anamorphic, which it isn't. Also, the subtitles are non-removable. I don't think any of this is helped by the fact that MPD-Psycho is a single layer disc. This transfer is simply unacceptable and, considering the high quality of the series, this is a real shame.
The sound design itself can't be faulted, and the mix presented here is a surprisingly effective one. Turn it up too high and you'll hear some distortion, though, so keep it at a low to medium volume level for best results.
Extra Features
The Verdict
This is the hardest three-star rating I have ever had to give. On it's own merits, MPD-Psycho is a four-star event. However, almost everything about the disc is either sub-par or lower. In some cases, much lower. As idiotic as this may sound, don't let that dissuade you. This is very funny, very beautiful and very strange. It is also very, very good. So good, in fact, that I persuade you to overlook the un-overlookable and buy the disc regardless of its quality. That's right, it's so good that I used the word un-overlookable. I'll have my desk cleared out by the end of the day.
Movie Score
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