Parasyte (2014)
Nicholas Driscoll
May 12, 2015
Note: review may contain spoilers

So recently I moved to Japan, and on the flight over, I flew via JAL Airlines, which gave me the chance to watch several Japanese movies on a nice, fairly sizable screen embedded in the back of the seat in front of me. Now, the state of my mind may not have been the best for evaluating films given my lack of sleep and the ever-growing discomfort of sitting in an airplane for thirteen hours straight (for some idiotic reason I actually… never got up to go to the bathroom for the entire flight), but nevertheless I am going to give it a shot—though I may not go into as much detail as I usually do. I actually watched three Toho films on the plane—and the best was easily the 2014 film Parasyte, from director Takashi Yamazaki. I have enjoyed his work before in the immensely derivative Returner (2002) and the tear-jerker Always: Sunset on Third Street (2005). Parasyte is more akin to the former film in that it deals with aliens in a gritty world—but this film is far more sophisticated than Returner, with an engrossing (and gross!) story and truly wild special effects.

So the story: Nasty little alien earwig-type things are invading, sliding into folks' noses and ears, slurping their brains, and then replacing their entire heads with crazy transforming multi-eyed munchy mouths. These, umm, alien-headed walking human bodies disguise themselves as normal folk and feed exclusively on people-meat. Well, one of these little slimers tries to slip into the ear of a teenager rocking out on his MP3 player, and for the first time ever, earbuds save a life. The alien bug invades Shinichi's hand instead, and from then on our hapless hero must live with a talkative, ugly monster hand with big lips and a superiority complex (it can change back into a normal hand, too). The monster hand (which names itself "Migi," which means "right"—because it's his right hand) has a symbiotic relationship with Shinichi—it cannot live without him, and, as the other parasitical alien nasties start taking an interest in the teenager and his new "friend," Shinichi finds he can't live without Migi, either—the other chompy-headed aliens don't take kindly to some human dude who knows of their presence and their diet on people steaks! Now Shinichi's life has gotten way more interesting as he tries to simply stay alive and protect those closest to him from getting turned into breakfast.

Much of the story centers on the relationship between Shinichi and Migi. Shota Sometani (some dude who just married freaking Rinko Kikuchi in 2014!) plays Shinichi quite well I thought with a wide range of emotions--which is to say he has to freak out a lot. I mean, he has to whip a slippery alien slug thing out of his nose, struggle with a wacko alien hand that takes an interest in his junk, do crazy hand-to-hand combat with various monsters, detach himself from the floor caked in his own blood, collapse in shock at the sight of a hallway filled with mangled corpses—okay, look, Shinichi just constantly has a whole string of awful days, and I am trying to keep this description relatively free of spoilers. He also has to constantly talk to his hand—something I don't usually do on any given day—yet Sometani makes it look natural.

Migi, meanwhile, is played by a combination of computer graphics, Sometani's hand, and the voice of Sadao Abe—yeah, he's that guy who played "the Unicorn" in Kamikaze Girls (2004) and the idiotic kappa in 2005's The Great Yokai War! The design of the monster hand closely follows the look of the manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki, with mixed results. What I mean is, the alien hand looks really silly, but it works fine in the stylized art of the comic. In a live-action movie, the design looks really cartoony, which clashes with the often quite grim storytelling—and the mouth on that thing! Giant lips, human-ish teeth—it looks like one of those Steve Oedekerk thumb skits. Still, the CGI looks pretty good as Migi morphs and whips about. Sadao Abe's voice work here is also somewhat cartoony, and occasionally came across to me as a bit monotone—though as the character's relationship with Shinichi develops, Abe's voice work likewise warms up.

The supporting cast in the film is also strong—I thought Kimiko Yo put forth a great job as Shinichi's mother, for example, and Eri Fukatsu is effectively eerie as a science-obsessed parasite-beastie moonlighting as a school teacher. Still, despite the strong cast, the story may be somewhat unsatisfying in the end.

While the story and characters are quite engaging, the movie is still tied to the source material, so that it works almost like a pilot episode with a cliffhanger ending and lots of loose narrative threads at the end. The film is more set-up than complete standalone story, which was apparently by design. There are also a few half-baked (maybe even quarter-baked) environmental messages tossed in carelessly at the beginning, but which really have nothing to do with the story.

Other than my mixed feelings about the overall look of Migi, the special effects for the sundry slimy and toothy beasts are pretty awesome, with lots of human faces ripping apart to reveal complex dental work and an excess of saliva; whip-cracking tentacles; and variously severed and sliced up bodies. The effects may not be up to the standards of some of the best work in Hollywood, but the buckets of slime and blood are more than competently rendered—and the result is quite creepy and sometimes downright disturbing.

Finally, a quick note on the music. To be honest, I don't remember the tunes all that well, except that the opening and closing had very ominous orchestral stuff which then peters out into more moody-background set-pieces. But honestly, I don't remember enough to say much about this aspect of the film.

Parasyte is the best movie I have ever seen about a monster parasite hand creature thingy. I know, that's not saying much, but the screenplay really sells that concept in a way that really pulled me into the haunting, macabre world of Shinichi. Heck, I didn't even mention the themes running throughout—themes exploring the value of human life, for example. There is a lot more I could say. But I'll just finish up: good acting, icky FX, exciting storytelling—while not the best monster flick, this one is quite strong, and may worm its way into your heart as well… with a few shivers as you go.