15:43 - 25th July 2016, by David West

Parasyte The Movie: Part 1

While high school student Shinichi Izumi (Shota Sometani) is napping at home one night, listening to music on his headphones, a strange slithering creature tries to crawl into his ear, aiming to take over his brain. Blocked by the headphones, instead the creature inserts itself into Shinichi’s right arm, where it takes up permanent residence, much to the young man’s revulsion. Calling itself Migi (a pun on the word ‘right’), the highly verbose creature has the power to morph into different shapes and forms. And Migi is not the only parasite in town – other creatures have successfully seized control of host bodies and now prey on human flesh.

Director Takashi Yamazaki has a good record in adapting hit properties into live action movies, notably with his big budget version of Space Battleship Yamato in 2010. Parasyte, adapted from the manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki, topped the Japanese box office in 2014 and Yamazaki’s film feels much truer in both spirit and content to the source material than Shinji Higuchi’s misconceived Attack on Titan movie. In the lead, Shota Sometani looks refreshingly ordinary, lacking the clean cut teen idol look so common with young Japanese stars, and sporting an unflattering haircut for good measure. He’s very good at playing the awkward teenager and it’s easy to read Shinichi’s story as a teen struggling with their changing body and identity – particularly in the scene when Migi, reading Shinichi’s subconscious desires, gets overly grabby with his crush Satomi (Ai Hashimoto). Following an argument with his concerned mom (Kimiko Yo) who has noticed his moodiness, Shinichi grumbles, “I’m not a kid, so I’m bound to change.”

The special effects are generally good, if not as perfectly seamless as you might expect from a major Hollywood fx movie. Migi, voiced by Sadao Abe, looks slightly smooth and cartoony; fortunately the eye-lines are always correct when he’s talking to Shinichi.

The film isn’t shy about throwing in some gore and bloodshed. It’s not Ichi The Killer, but the appearance of the parasite-infected hosts is grotesque and their attacks on unsuspecting victims involve stabbing through sternums and decapitations galore. The body-horror element is certainly present in the film, but it doesn’t feel as pronounced as the anime and manga.

Yamazaki’s adaptation works best as suspenseful science fiction, as Shinichi faces the knowledge that the parasites are infiltrating humanity and clearly have some sort of plan to achieve control over the population. It’s much less effective as an action movie. While there are scenes in which Migi and Shinichi have to confront hostile parasites, they tend to be short. Despite their brevity, the final confrontation here packs a strong emotional punch given the identity of Shinichi’s opponent, which can’t be revealed without a major spoiler.

Increasing the intrigue is the fact that there is no unity of intent amongst the other parasites. Some see humans as nothing more than cattle, while others attempt to assimilate, hoping to blend in, and Shinichi struggles to distinguish enemies from potential allies.

With the sequel heading our way in June, Parasyte inevitably leaves plenty of plot threads left to untangle and questions to answer, but it’s a very strong start. While it’s heavy on CGI and there’s no shortage of dismembered body parts, Yamazaki wisely chooses to forgo spectacle in favour of suspense and a creeping sense of unease and paranoia.
SCORE: 4/5
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