Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack

Japan (2012) Dir. Takayuki Hirao

In the usually peaceful island of Okinawa three friends from Tokyo – Kaori, Erika and Aki – notice a foul stench in the air of their holiday cabin, akin to rotting human flesh. The source seems to be a small fish like creature they see scuttling quickly behind the furniture which they trap, noticing this fish has legs! The girls throw the bizarre carcass out with the rubbish and forget about it but the stench remains – this time it comes from a large shark on legs! Japan is under attack from mutated fish with metal legs and there seems to be no way to stop them!

From the somewhat unique mind of horror manga artist Junji Ito, noted for Uzamaki and Tomie (both of which have received live action adaptations), comes another disturbing tale of mind-bending madness, this time realising the potential horror of dangerous fish having mobility on land. As with many anime adaptations of manga this version from Takayuki Hirao, who has helmed episodes from many renowned and classic anime shows such as Death Note, Paranoia Agent and Kara no Kyoukai, takes some liberties with the story which has alienated fans of Ito’s original work. For anyone who hasn’t read the manga (including yours truly) this might not pose much of a problem although the confusing final act and limp ending is something of an indicator that severe changes were implemented.

With just over an hour in running time, Hiroa gets right down to business with the action with our three young female protagonists and two local lads who hear there screams are soon fighting for their lives against the vicious all terrain sharks inside the first five minutes. Erika is stabbed in the foot by one of the shark’s pointed feet which later has serious repercussions when she slowly mutates into a grotesque beast herself. TV reports show that this is not an isolated incident and the streets of Okinawa are overflowing with rampaging fish. The smaller ones are more of a nuisance like insects – it is the bigger ones people need to worry about. Upon receiving a call from her fiancé Tadashi in Tokyo, Kaori defies his pleas to stay put in Okinawa and rushes off to get a last minute place on the next flight to Tokyo. On the flight she meets photo journalist Tsuyoshi Shirakawa, who smells a story and, you guessed it, end up being the two nominal heroes of the tale.

The mystery of what made the fish become what they are is explained as Kaori and Tsuyoshi try to find Tadashi by way of his scientist uncle, who not only knows about the fish but has been conducting some frightening experiments after being attacked and infected himself. This is where things start to fall apart. Obviously the cause is going to be somewhat credibility stretching but during their many attempts to escape from this aquatic assault leads them to a circus tent in the middle of a busy Tokyo street where even more confusing answers are forthcoming. Apparently this is one of the key areas of the manga that has been altered for this film and presumably makes more sense as a result otherwise this comes across as a completely random and deliberately surreal distraction.

Being a horror anime and one adapted from an Ito story to boot, all things grotesque and macabre are guaranteed to be on the menu, so genre fans are well accommodated on that front. Hirao has decide to cover all bases by trying to replicate the teen slasher horror formula and it comes across as frankly tacky in animated form. For example, did we really need to see slutty Erika involved in a threesome scene (albeit still clothed) or her mutated fat self being subjected to a rather unpleasant insertion placement of a gas tube? Some might get a kick out of this but it all feels cheap and gratuitous, harkening back to the bad old days of the material that spawned Daily Mail’s anti-anime campaign of the early 90’s.

Ufotable, the studio handling the animation, do a good job with the visuals but the clash between 2D and 3D is far too diverting and not as smooth as it should be in this day and age. The movement of the schools of fish with their insect like legs makes for some effectively creepy visuals to compliment the ugliness of the mutated humans and the other grotesque sights on display. Hirao does manages to create some palpable tension at the start of the film with the initial attack by the shark on the girls in the cabin, but by the time the action reaches Tokyo, some of it becomes a tad risible like a bad zombie flick.

There is no denying that the concept of Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack with its mutated walking fish is a glorious one with some potential and while this may have worked in the manga, it somehow fails to translate to the screen, largely down to the alterations of the story. Whether it would have worked as a direct adaptation we may never know but as it stand this is a flawed curiosity and arguably a once only watch for hardcore anime fans only.

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