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Think too much, and the thrill is gone

Those of you who need a fix of freshly imported Japanese horror are advised to stop reading and head right now to the Brattle, where Takashi Shimizu's ''Marebito" opens today.

Good. Now that they're gone: It's actually a pretty lousy thriller. Shimizu is coasting on his good name. He's the man who brought us two ''Ju-on" movies and ''The Grudge," a chill-less American version of ''Ju-on" that starred a nearly comatose Sarah Michelle Gellar but made a killing at the box office nonetheless. ''Marebito" is even more an abstraction than the director's previous work.

The story follows Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto), an expressionless cameraman who walks the Tokyo streets surreptitiously taping people and gathering violent footage for replay at home in his elaborate, computerized monitoring station. In his never-ending narration, he tells us he's desperate to feel something. Becoming a psychopath is apparently the most intense way to accomplish his goal.

Masuoka wanders from one location to the next as the movie's soundtrack coughs up more horrific noise than anything we see on-screen, that is until he comes across a naked, equally expressionless girl (Tomomi Miyashita) he finds chained up in a park.

The cameraman takes her home and calls her F. As it turns out, F is a serious carnivore. After an annoyed pedestrian pummels Masuoka and smashes his camera, F licks his bloody finger. Before long he's bringing her the blood of dead animals and, later, people he's killed. Shimizu thinks he's drawing ironic conclusions about savages living in a technological world, but the movie is stopped up with philosophical hooey.

The title roughly translates to ''A Stranger From Afar," and, though it's based on a novel by the anime writer Chiaki Konaka, who also wrote the screenplay, Masuoka seems a lot like Meursault, the numb murderer who longs to feel in Albert Camus's ''The Stranger." The difference is that where Camus keeps moral consequence in mind, Shimizu demands anarchy yet still never gets a rise out of us.

Masuoka tells a man whom he tapes stabbing himself in the eye that he wants to see what that eye saw before it was impaled. ''I long for your terror," he says. The self-mutilator replies, ''The feeling we know as terror is actually ancient wisdom that is sealed in our unconscious mind." This movie's priorities are all mixed up. It needs to crawl out of its own mind and into ours.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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