The New York Times writes:
Showtime cable network says that the broadcast of "Imprint," the penultimate episode of its 13-part anthology series "Masters of Horror," has been cancelled. Through a spokesman, the network declined further comment.
Originally scheduled to have its premiere on Jan. 27, "Imprint," directed by the renegade Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, will be replaced by "Haeckel's Tale," an adaptation of a short story by Clive Barker directed by John McNaughton ("Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"). All references to "Imprint" were removed from the Showtime Web site, though a trailer for the episode remains on mastersofhorror.net, the site sponsored by the series's production company, IDT Entertainment.
The concept behind "Masters of Horror" was to give carte blanche to a group of respected horror film directors, both veterans like John Carpenter, Joe Dante and John Landis and newcomers like Lucky McKee ("May") and William Malone ("Fear Dot Com"). The filmmakers would be given their choice of material and freedom from corporate censorship in exchange for creating their work on a tight budget and short schedule.
Mr. Miike, 45, is a deliberately and spectacularly transgressive director whose work is lionized by a substantial share of the young generation of Internet critics and horror film fans, while routinely rejected as repulsively sadistic by much of the mainstream media. To date, his most notorious film has been "Audition" (2000), a cautionary tale about a middle-aged man who holds a fake audition for a movie role to search for a bride, only to be caught in his own game of cruelty when one of the candidates, a seemingly demure young woman, turns the tables on him and subjects him to a prolonged session of graphic torture.
"Imprint" may go even further, and clearly represents something more than Showtime bargained for. "I think it's amazing, but it's even hard for me to watch," said Mick Garris, the creator and executive producer of the series. "It's definitely the most disturbing film I've ever seen." It will now be released directly to the DVD market through IDT's home video subsidiary, Anchor Bay Entertainment, along with the rest of the episodes in the series. No date has been announced.
Mr. Miike, who speaks no English and is rushing to complete his latest theatrical feature, "Waru: Final," for release in Japan on Feb. 25, was not available for comment.
"Imprint," which has a much more polished look than most of Mr. Miike's work, plays like an infernal variation on "Memoirs of a Geisha." In mid-19th-century Japan, an American journalist (the genre stalwart Billy Drago) goes in search of the prostitute he has fallen in love with but was forced to abandon.
The American's quest leads him to a mysterious island zoned exclusively for dimly lighted brothels, where one procurer, a syphilitic midget, introduces him to a relatively sympathetic prostitute (Youki Kudoh, who also appears in "Memoirs of a Geisha"). Hideously deformed, the right side of her face pulled into a permanent rictus, the nameless woman tells the American the terrible story of what happened to his lover, throwing in at no extra charge the story of her own hideous childhood as the daughter of impoverished outcasts.
As the woman's story continues, her revelations, scrupulously visualized, become more and more outlandish, and her descriptions of the violence done to the missing prostitute, who was suspected of stealing a ring from the brothel's madam, become more cruelly imaginative and difficult to stomach. But the most shocking imagery is yet to come, as the nameless woman describes her collaboration in her mother's work as an abortionist.
"Imprint" was filmed in Japan under the aegis of Mr. Miike's regular production company, rather than in Vancouver, where the series is based and most of its other episodes were shot. "Definitely, at the script stage we made comments about the aborted fetuses," Mr. Garris said. "We made it clear that we were going on American pay cable television, and even though there wasn't as much control over content, there still were concerns. And then when we got the first cut, it was very, very strong stuff, and we made some suggestions on what might help before we showed it to Showtime. The Japanese made the changes they were comfortable with, and eventually we arrived at a film that he was happy with and we're all happy with. But Showtime felt it was not something they were comfortable putting out on the airwaves."
"Imprint," Mr. Garris suggested, was not the sort of film that could be trimmed a bit here and there to make it more acceptable. "It is what it is," he said.
"It really was, let's try and not hack this up," Mr. Garris concluded. "Let's all just agree to release it in its complete form on the DVD, and hopefully its audience will be able to find it that way."