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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Nippon Reviews: Kiseiju (Parasyte, Part 1)

Parasyte, Part 1 (Kiseiju): Written by Ryota Kosawa and Takashi Yamazaki, directed by Takashi Yamazaki.  Starring: Shota Sometani, Eri Fukatsu, Ai Hashimoto, Masahiro Higashide, and Tadanobu Asano.  Running Time: 108 minutes.  Based on the manga of the same name by Hitoshi Iwaaki. 

Rating: 3.5/4 

            Parasyte, a two-part film adaptation of a manga with the same name, is an action/sci-fi story about an army of parasites that rise up from the depths of the ocean to take over human society by infecting our brains.  Where they originated, who sent them, and for what ultimate purpose is kept deliberately vague, in a possible metaphor for the nature of life itself.  An opening sequence suggests that their appearance may be nature’s vengeance upon us for the environmental damage we have wrought, but that too is left open to interpretation. 

            This, of course, heavily implies that the end result of the parasites fulfilling their instinctive mission will mean the destruction of the human race, and herein layeth the central conflict of our story.  One parasite, who eventually names himself Migi, attempts to seize control of a normal, angsty, mostly immature teenager named Shinichi, but, through a great gag involving an iPhone, is only able to take over his hand.  This creates a….unique situation, since Shinichi is still himself, with full control over his brain and body, with the exception of the upper half of his right arm, which is no longer “his;” it is now, for all intents and purposes, Migi’s body.  It seems that the parasite effectively “becomes” whatever it infects, although on a purely physical level they remain human. 

            A key physical feature of the parasites must now be mentioned- although they initially appear as a sort of crawling, insect-like creature, once they have taken over a body they can twist, bend, and stretch the body’s limbs and shape like silly-putty, and also develop superhuman strength and reflexes.  This is usually utilized by either turning the person’s head into a terrifying mass of moving jaws and teeth, perfect for chowing down on unknowing human victims, or weaponizing their hands Terminator-style by morphing them into huge razor-sharp blades, which conveniently make for some flashy fight scenes later on.

            Part 1 of this story focuses on how Shinichi and Migi slowly find ways to coexist with each other and learn more about the motives of the different parasites, who seem to be as divided in their tactics and goals as humans tend to be.  The first group of fellow parasites they encounter are led by Ryoko, who took over the body of a well-regarded Chemistry teacher at Shinichi’s school.  As emotionally cold and she is brilliant and powerful, she is purely experimental in her approach, hoping to find an optimal way for the parasites and humans to coexist.  Her tactics range from monitoring two fellow parasites, one a fellow student at the aforementioned school, and the other a policeman who may be a bit more blood-thirsty than your usual parasite, to seemingly more radical measures like eschewing the usual parasite diet of human flesh for vegetarian food, or even getting herself pregnant, just to see what sort of qualities a child conceived by parasites might possess.  Shinichi is at first determined to ignore the events this sets off, but is drawn farther and farther into the web parasite’s plans until their presence begins to directly threaten the lives of his friends and family. 

            It is, in short, very much a tale from the world of Japanese superpower-action manga, in ways that are either strengths in the film’s favor or critical strikes against it, depending on where you’re coming from.  All the usual story/world tropes are present- bizarre tonal shifts from wacky comedy to terrifying gore-fest, out-of-left-field character/monster designs, the main character suddenly being the only person who can save everyone, and unbelievable superpowers or reveals of alien or mythical life forms that are accepted all too quickly by the human characters, among many others.  None of this will be anything particularly new for regular readers of manga, but for the uninitiated, it just might prove impossible to overcome or ignore. 

            The biggest issue in this regard is the design of Migi himself, consisting of two subble points as legs, thin, wavy arms, a wide mouth with very prominent lips, and a single, bobbing eyeball.  It’s one of those designs that probably looks fine in the black-and-white, simple-line pages of a manga, but always seems terribly off when directly copied into a live-action setting.  This extends to the rest of the parasites as well- it’s not bad CGI, and it’s not nearly as egregiously over-present as it is in most modern American blockbusters, but it does take effort, at least at first, to get past how clearly fake Migi and the other parasite forms look. 

            That said, once you get past all that, a lot of people will find this first part immensely entertaining.  While it’s not necessarily anything new, the comedy they mine from Migi’s and Shinichi’s first efforts to live together is very well-done, and when shit hits the fan in the second half we get some great bits of action that make full use of the powers the parasites bring to the table.  It paces itself well, and by the end I was quite eager to get my ass back in its seat for Part 2.   Which is, of course, the whole purpose of a film with Part 1 attached to the title. 

-Noah Franc 

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