Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review of "Kiseijuu Part 1"

Watching this movie while I was in Japan during winter last year was somewhat unplanned. I had some time in the day and wanted to catch a movie but somehow, the offerings were either shows I had watched in Singapore such as "Gone Girl" or films which I wasn't keen on. There were also some Japanese movies which I was very keen on but they either had ended their run or were not screened yet. Although I knew that "Kiseijuu" was going to be shown in Singapore soon, I still went ahead to watch it even though I'm not a fan of the manga, know close to nothing about the story and am more interested in the supporting cast of Fukatsu Eri, Higashide Masahiro and Hashimoto Ai rather than the story or CG effects. If only the movie had been better in various aspects, I wouldn't have regretted paying more money for watching it in Japan.

Due to the fact that I didn't know the source material, I had no prior expectations before watching the movie. Although I know that the manga is said to be very good, I never had the opportunity and time to read it beforehand which on hindsight, is probably a better thing. As such, my review is from the viewpoint of someone who knows close to nothing about the manga so a fan might have an entirely different take on this movie. If you haven't watched this movie and do not want me to spoil the fun for you, perhaps you might want to skip this review.

Before I get started with my views on this movie, here's a summary of the story. The film begins with a parasyte species surfacing from the depths of the sea and infiltrating the human world by entering the ears of a human being and taking over his or her brain. In order to survive, these parasytes eat humans and often leave behind a bloody trail when the remains are found by the authorities.

As this is going on, we are introduced to the lead character of this story i.e. Izumi Shinichi (Sometani Shota), an ordinary high school student who lives with his mother (Yo Kimiko). One night, while he is lying in bed listening to music, the parasyte tries to invade Shinichi's body through his ears but fails because of the earphones. It then attempts to go in through his right arm but this startles him and he manages to tie a rubber rope around his arm to stop the parasyte in time before it attacks his brain. However, when things settle down, Shinichi is left wondering if what he has experienced moments ago was just a dream and doesn't think much of the episode.

Later on, Shinichi discovers what a close shave he had with the parasyte who calls itself Migi (voiced by Abe Sadao) and has taken over his right arm instead. Despite the disbelief and inconvenience of Migi's presence, Shinichi sort of resigns himself to his fate as he tries to conceal its presence from those around him including his childhood friend Satomi (Hashimoto Ai). On the other hand, Shinichi's existence (human and parasyte co-existing in the same human body) becomes something of interest to fellow parasytes including Tamiya Ryoko (Fukatsu Eri) who has appeared as a new teacher in Shinichi's school, Shimada Hideo (Higashide Masahiro) who later becomes a transfer student at the same school and A (Ikeuchi Mansaku). Tamiya in particular seems more intent on studying Shinichi as she is currently pregnant with the offspring of parasytes in a human's body. It would seem like Shinichi would have led an entirely parallel life from the parasytes aiming to take over the human race if not for an unfortunate mishap befalling his mother,

As a result of his mother's body being taken over by A, Shinichi is seriously wounded and on the verge of dying. In a bid to save his life, Migi uses its own cells to help Shinichi recover and this results in him developing new-found powers as a result of this integration with Migi. However, this also causes a drastic change in his personality which does not go unnoticed by Satomi.

Not only does Shinichi have to come to terms with the fact that he has to kill A who resides in his mother's body, he faces a bigger challenge when Hideo's identity as a parasyte is suddenly exposed in school thus resulting in the latter going on a bloody massacre. In order to stop Hideo's rampage, Shinichi uses his newfound physical prowess and powers to overcome Hideo. At the end of Part 1, Shinichi resolves to use his abilities to stop the parasytes from achieving their aim as they are already making inroads into the political arena through one of their comrades Hirokawa Takeshi (Kitamura Kazuki)...

First of all, the uneven pacing of the story was quite obvious. As the movie was around 120 minutes long only, there was a lot of material it had to address within this timeframe e.g. how the parasytes came about, how they invade humans, how Shinichi became drawn into the conflict of humans vs. parasytes, how Shinichi changed as a result of his mother's death. Some things were probably not necessary to describe in detail such as showing how Migi got its knowledge about the human world through the library's books and the Internet while critical parts such as Shinichi's change in personality after Migi's cells were integrated with his were not given due attention especially since this could be used to explain Shinichi's his future actions in Part 2. Due to this, I felt myself getting really bored and sleepy during the first half of the movie as the story seemed to be meandering for no reason and things only picked up after the Shinichi-Migi integration.

Secondly, there seems to be a gross wastage of talent because some actors hardly get any screentime or their characters are so one-dimensional that they cannot leave an impression on viewers. Hashimoto Ai felt like a weak heroine who can't do anything except to stay behind Shinichi and ask him what's wrong but it could have been due to the way the character is in the first part of the story. Part 2 seems to be hinting that there is more to her than what we saw in Part 1 which I hope does hold true. Likewise for Fukatsu Eri's role of Tamiya Ryoko, I thought she might be a very interesting character to explore further because there wasn't much explained about how she came up with the idea of using human bodies to have sexual intercourse in order to create a baby who could turn out to be human, parasyte or a hybrid or both. Was it purely out of curiousity or was there a motive or mission behind the action? Maybe the original manga would have addressed this point but to me, it wasn't obvious from the movie. It also seems that Tamiya would become more important in Part 2 which leaves with this burning question: if most of the characters are going to become more "prominent" or have significant developments in Part 2, would there be enough time to give each and every one of them due attention? Coupled with the fact that there were some new characters yet to be introduced or explored in detail such as Asano Tadanobu, Omori Nao and Kitamura Kazuki, my concern about the story's uneven focus and assigning sufficient weightage to the characters would inevitably become an issue again in Part 2.

Last but not least, the problem of having multiple installments for a movie can be a double-edged sword. If Part 1 is fantastic, chances are people will be interested to watch Part 2. However, there is also this alternative thinking that the highlights of the story should be reserved all the way to Part 2 so Part 1 becomes nothing more than a mere introduction to the action in Part 2. Personally, I'm of the former opinion i.e. if all parts of the movie don't do well, the entire franchise doesn't. Just because the movie companies want to make more money through having multiple installments or there is indeed a need as to why the story has to be split up, it doesn't mean that the movie-goer should be short-changed by having to accept a less-than-perfect Part 1. Ultimately, Part 1 and Part 2 are standalone films. You can't be telling me that Part 1 is just the introduction and the best is yet to come. If you can't do a decent job for the introduction, how can I be convinced that Part 2 will be something fantastic? Of course, in order to find out about the ending, people might still go ahead to watch Part 2 but there is probably a group of people who would just hop off the bandwagon because of Part 1's lacklustre quality.

And that is what the problem is with this movie. The trailer of Part 2 promises a lot e.g. Shinichi having to deal with stronger powers in the form of parasytes in strategic positions within society, the array of new characters who have yet to see the day in Part 1 and the looming threat of what Tamiya's baby might become. When you compare with the lack of excitement in Part 1, you can't help but wonder if watching Part 1 was a waste of time after all. If the best is yet to come, I might as well watch Part 2 only. Then again, if you look at Part 1, it's filled with problems here and there so my confidence in Part 2 bucking the trend is somewhat affected.

As for the cast's performance, I can't speak in terms of whether they are a match with the characters they play. Sometani Shota, for obvious reasons, has a meaty role because he is the lead. However, the way Shinichi is crafted in the story seems to be that the scriptwriter is not willing to go further in exploring more about Shinichi's personality and was adopting a touch-and-go approach. As such, the only impression I have is that Sometani seems to be able to do more but his hands are tied and Shinichi just doesn't leave an impression on me other than a little bit of angst here and there towards the end. Likewise about Hashimoto Ai and Fukatsu Eri who I talked about in greater detail above. Higashide Masahiro, on the other hand, wasn't as significant than the leads in terms of airtime but he left a deeper impression on me by showing the robotic-like mannerisms of Hideo which reflects the lack of emotions in parasytes. In that sense, he was a match for his character. Other than Higashide, the rest of the cast didn't seem to be able to do much despite their usual acting prowess which I hope would be a different story in Part 2. Worth mentioning would be Abe Sadao though who didn't get to show his face at all but was quite interesting in his voice-over as Migi.

And my ratings for this movie...

Story: 2 out of 10 (It would have been better if Part 1 didn't seem like a mere introduction to Part 2)

Acting: 5 out of 10 (Nobody really failed big time but then nobody impressed me very much too. It felt that the hands of the cast were tied due to the limited development of their characters.)

Theme song/BGM: 2 out of 10 (Not much of an impression though even in climax scenes such as the battle between Shinichi and Hideo)

Visual effects / Scenery: 3 out 10 (Other than the parts where the faces would split up and the fighting scenes, there really isn't much to say about the CG effects. Maybe it would be better in Part 2?)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 2 out of 10 (Bland is an understatement. There wasn't really any tension so as to speak between humans and the parasytes so sparks didn't fly onscreen. Sometani and Hashimoto's relationship wasn't really developed in Part 1 so there's not much chemistry to speak of yet.)

Total: 14 out of 50

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