Dir: Miike Takashi. Japan. 1999. 115 mins.

Prod co: Omega Project. Int'l sales: Omega Project (83 1 5468 1212) Scr: Tengan Daisuke, based on novel by Murakami Ryu. DoP: Yamamoto Hideo. Prod design: Ozeki Tatsuo. Ed: Shimamura Yasushi. Mus: Endo Koji. Main cast: Ishibashi Ryo, Shiina Eihi, Matsuda Miyuki, Ishibashi Renji.

The talk of this year's Rotterdam Film Festival, Takashi Miike's startling blend of gentle family melodrama and graphic horror is easy to either admire or hate, but impossible to ignore. One of three features made in 1999 by this prolific young director, the picture carries a terrific wallop for the blood and gore crowds, but generates, at the same time, the kind of discomfort that is not generally associated with the genre. The grisly finale doesn't really settle anything and spectators are left to ponder over the meaning of the metaphor they have been watching.

Aoyama, a forty-something widowed film company executive, is encouraged by his teenage son to find a new spouse, before drifting irretrievably into old age. A colleague at work volunteers to help and arranges a mock audition, to find the ideal candidate for marriage. Aoyama's interest is prickled by a certain young woman, demure, shy and much younger than he is. In his eyes she is the perfect choice, despite various warnings that there might be some history of mischief behind the innocent appearance and her threatening remark that she 'never forgives a liar'. After mulling over the issue he asks her out, then takes her away for the weekend. To reveal more of proceedings would be unfair, but suffice to say they involve amputation of various members, decapitation and the use of acupuncture needles and piano wires for purposes they were not designed for - all on camera and down to the grimmest, bloodiest detail.

Working from a script based on a novel by Japanese cult writer Murakami Ryu, the film moves with amazing ease from light satire to gruesome nightmares. Performances, particularly from Eihi Shina as the disquieting former ballet dancer, are nicely controlled and the editing, frequently jumping from past to present and from reality to sheer fancy, is often stunning.

Miike is the kind of director who not only doesn't pull any punches but seems to enjoy sticking knives into his helpless victims and then turing the blade. Not for the faint of heart, this disturbing psycho-thriller might still cross over from its natural spot in midnight shows to art cinemas if critic reaction is anything like its reception at Rotterdam.