Review

by Richard Rowland,

Parasyte

Synopsis:
Parasyte

If the human population halved, would there be half as much pollution? The film opens with this dilemma as earth stands at the precipice of an environmental crisis. The solution it presents is ironically the most effective – eviscerate the polluting human race. Nature sends its agent of extinction: Parasyte.

Like all biological entities, the parasytes have a simple goal, to multiply. They do so by crawling into the brains of their human hosts. Using the hosts' human appearance, they deceitfully approach their fellow humans only to devour them for survival. Shinichi Izumi was a typical high school student until assaulted by one of the parasytes. Its neural invasion prevented by ear buds, it shoots into Shinichi's right hand upon his resistance. Since then, Shinichi's arm turns into an anthropomorphic “Righty.” The two form a symbiotic duo to protect themselves from their vicious nemesis parasytes.

Review:

A couple of decades since the conclusion of the original manga and after years in development hell, Parasyte finally hits the silver screen as a live-action feature. In charge of transitioning the story from its initial paper-2D incarnation to 3D is Takashi Yamazaki, the CGI wizard responsible for recent domestic hits like The Eternal Zero and Always Doraemon. His mastery of special effects enables the parasitic invaders to grotesquely come to life in a live-shot environment while retaining their comic-like charm.

The film's release at this time may seem all too belated. A Hollywood rendition was reported to be in the works about a decade ago, though abandoned without much fruition, and plans for its adaptation vaporized when licensing rights expired in 2013. This prompted domestic studios to compete for production rights, leading to this very release. Fortunately, the film's solid presentation attests to Yamazaki largely being able to realize his vision.

The production's return to its indigenous roots in Japan may have proven to be quite fortuitous. Past Hollywood adaptations of manga have generally been critical and commercial flops; honorable mentions include The Guyver, Speed Racer, and the notorious Dragonball Evolution. This live-shot rendition of Parasyte benefits from the crew's intimate understanding of Japanese stylization, which avoids excess graphic realism and digressing from the original narrative. It respects the atmosphere of the original manga; aside from the parastyes, the remaining components of the film are nothing out of the ordinary. As one would imagine in a Japanese suburb, the people live quietly in common housing districts. This serenity is effectively juxtaposed by the sudden disruption brought upon by the parasytes, adding weight to the tension and terror experienced by humans. Such portrayal communicates that this is not yet another slasher, incorporating gore for thoughtless stimulation, but a piece of entertainment attempting to provoke the philosophical question of survival in the midst of a biological crisis.

Shinichi's character development deserves attention. He originally shuddered at cannibalism brought upon by parasytes who callously rationalize their actions as a matter of survival. Although Righty labels him as a hypocrite for copiously consuming other variations of meat, Shinichi soon departs from his sentimentalism for living beings. Caring for a stray dog struck by a car, he throws it into a trash bin to his girlfriend's disgust. In Shinichi's depraved humanity, the corpse is only “a lump of meat shaped like a dog.”

Conversely, the parasytes increasingly take on human attributes to adapt to their new environment. Just like the political animals humans are, they coalesce to better serve their biological proliferation. Together they attempt to strategize, although conflicting instincts leads to a factionalized power struggle. In fact, the parasytes begin to invade the political arena through the democratic process they mockingly take advantage of.

Reiko Tamiya plays a key role in humanity's crisis. A parasyte herself, she spies on earth's inhabitants as a high school teacher. She even mimics human behavior to socially meld into her new milieu, such as living on an ordinary human diet, although she is still unable make a smile and subdue her murderous aura. Among her numerous experiments to better understand her prey, she confesses in an unquavering voice that she had sex with another humanoid parasyte, only to become pregnant with a perfectly human baby. As her maternal instinct is nurtured, she becomes strangely compassionate towards humans. She deviates from her biological intuition morphing into a pacifist who pursues a course of coexistence with humanity. With such conniving, the frontier between human and alien aggressors only becomes blurred.

As much as the parasytes attempt to assimilate into human society, their aggressive nature interferes with their efforts, leaving all for naught. After Reiko's initial success in mimicking human traits, she sends in undercover parasyte Shimada into Shinichi's high school to monitor him while promising to behave himself in front of their earthly hosts. However, when a student accidentally discovers his disguise, he reacts hysterically, assaulting the student body, killing humans in a spectacle of violence. Terminating the rogue parasyte, Shinichi can no longer tolerate their existence; in the film's conclusion, he declares total war to annihilate the alien aggressors.

The original manga is abridged in order to suit its cinematic adaptation. In doing so, however, several critical characters are omitted along the way, including Shinichi's father who is pronounced dead before the film even begins. Compensating for his absence, Shinichi's mother regretfully prioritizes her role as the breadwinner in lieu of her maternal obligation to emotionally support her vulnerable son. Additionally, the film reduces the number of parasyte characters to speed up the narrative. While truncating may be appropriate for a briefer presentation on screen, it unfortunately brushes over features that enhanced the manga's reputation, especially character development. Every time Shinichi encountered a parasyte, he became emotionally stronger and wiser through various experiences, deconstructing their perverted morality through dialogue. While an in-depth exploration on ethics was possible in a part-textual medium like manga, the content receives only a cursory treatment in this adaptation.

The film is accompanied by a generic musical score, reminiscent of those by Hans Zimmer. Perhaps attempting to recreate the Hollywood atmosphere for global marketing, the music becomes yet another unoriginal succession of tension-wrought strings. However as the orchestra becomes louder (sometimes overindulgently), it effectively conveys the seriousness of humanity's imminent termination. It emulates the increasing burden on the shoulders of Shinichi, still only a teenager who has to save the world.

Live-action films adapted from manga tend to provoke the fear that the actors “mistranslate” the portrayal from its more stylized original. Thankfully, this film's cast avoids such problems for the most part. Ai Hashimoto fits as a lovable high school Satomi Murano, while Eri Fukatsu exhibits herself as a menacingly cold-hearted parasite-turned teacher. Shota Sometani's interpretation of Shinichi is cringe-worthy, however. A late-teen rebelling against his parents, Shinichi's forced petulance detracts from the film's undercurrent of imposing doom.

Unfortunately, the interactions between Sometani and the CGI-rendered Righty felt unnatural at times. Similar to the production dilemma faced in films combining live-action with graphic effects (Ralph Bakshi's Cool World comes to mind), Sometani struggled to persuasively act as if he was talking to a parasyte rather than to himself in a studio unaided by special effects. During dialogues with Righty, Sometani's focus occasionally strayed off as if indifferent to his talking right hand. Both Shinichi and Righty tended to act on different “frequencies”; although their acting was fine in itself, the tone of the dialogue seldom melded convincingly to present a seamless illusion of human and alien together in the same shot. This minor hitch attests to the difficulty of a graceful execution like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Meanwhile, audiences will need to try overlooking this blemish to be absorbed by the work.

Nonetheless, the film's positives outweigh its negatives. The benefits of CGI are palpable in the action scenes – medieval-esque sword fights between biologically-morphed blades swiftly swung beyond human capacity. Although watered down from the manga, the dialogue succinctly provokes our thoughts without overwhelming us. Before the film's Ethics 101 philosophizing turns into a heated lecture, Righty offers us comic relief with his cynical observations of humanity. By balancing intellect and action, Parasyte offers quality entertainment for all, including those unfamiliar with the original. And because of its decent execution, it entices viewers to follow up on the conclusion of humanity's fate in its upcoming sequel next year, and maybe compels them to delve deeper into the original manga.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B
Music : B-

+ CGI that fuses with reality while retaining comic charm, well-paced narrative, adequate action
generic musical score, Sometani's forced acting, downplaying the moral question from the comic

Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Screenplay:
Ryota Kosawa
Takashi Yamazaki
Original creator: Hitoshi Iwaaki

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Parasyte (live-action movie)

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