Parasyte Part 1 (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running Time: 109 minutes approx.
If ever a live action adaptation of a successful anime has a difficult handicap to overcome, it is not so much whether it can successfully honour the bespoke visual aspects during translation but the expectations of the existing fans of the franchise, and how they are going to react to any changes. Parasyte is one of those films which will assuredly suffer under such scrutiny.
Originally a cult hit manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki which began in 1988 and ended in 1995, the anime adaptation of Parasyte arrived last autumn as was a critical and commercial hit. This first film in a live action two-parter from Takashi Yamazaki arrived in Japanese cinemas just weeks after the anime debuted on TV, while Part Two was unleashed last month.
Part sci-fi, part horror with a sprinkle of black comedy, the story concerns the titular alien parasytes which enter human bodies via their ears, possess the brains to control the body then go on a human flesh eating spree. Schoolboy Shinji Izumi (Shota Sometani) is spared from this hostile takeover when his headphones prevent the parasyte from gaining entry, forcing it to burrow into his right hand instead. Because the parastye can’t access the brain it takes over Shinji’s right hand, manifesting itself as a sentient, single-eyed creature.
Named Migi – the Japanese for “right” – the parasyte (voiced by Sadao Abe) decides to work with Shinji to track down the other parasytes on earth and destroy them. Meanwhile a new teacher at Shinji’s school, Ryoko Tamiya (Eri Fukatsu), has also been possessed and is part of a malevolent group with an insatiable blood lust. While Royko tries to recruit Shinji, her partner known simply as “A” (Mansaku Ikeuchi) has other ideas.
With his background in visual effects as well as in anime Takashi Yamazaki is eminently qualified to bring Parasyte to the big screen, having already helmed the classic Space Battleship Yamato live action adaptation. In this instance however Yamazaki had a very specific plot line to follow whereas his choice of source material for Yamato was far greater. Even so, the task for Yamazaki is to condense a 26 episode anime/10 volume manga into comparable snack-sized chunks, wisely deciding upon splitting it into two films.
Fans who already know the story will immediately notice what has been changed or excised. The pace is naturally quicker so Shinji’s sudden change from bespectacled nerd to more active nerd with perfect vision is skipped by Shinji not wearing glasses at all. Another short cut comes in the complete absence of Shinji’s father – already dead in this script – who played an important role in a pivotal plot point in the anime. This leaves Shinji alone with his mother Nobuko (Kimiko Yo) whose fate remains the same albeit via a slightly different route.
Shinji’s love interest Satomi Murano (Ai Hashimoto) is featured less than in the anime and has undergone a personality change, going from a shy and timorous type to a livelier tomboyish girl. With all due respect to Hashimoto, she is isn’t as cute as her animated counterpart reducing her appeal as a damsel in distress, while her irregular appearances and feisty demeanour precludes her from being the barometer for Shinji’s change in attitude.
Also excised is the development in which Shinji meets a man with another benevolent parasyte who joins forces with Shinji to combat the roaming villainous creatures terrorising Tokyo. Finally Shinji’s growing confidence and strength with Migi as his muscle and the various scrapes he get into with street gangs which introduces another dropped character in Kana is not included here.
Some, what is left? Well, even at a breakneck pace – aided by a weird info dump session in an aquarium – quite a lot. Ryoko and A have mated as a test and she is pregnant, expecting a human baby, providing the script with a philosophical depth to offset the gruesome violence.
Having adapted to Shinji via a different method has forced Migi to learn about humans the old fashioned way – via books and the internet creating a unique and empathetic synergy to his understanding of humanity. And it seems that by carrying a child Kyoko may be experiencing something similar.
By being the first instalment, much of this film is concerned with laying the groundwork for the second to pick up the baton and run to the conclusion, although we end at an interesting point with the last minute introduction of Goto (Tadanobu Asano), a possible game changer for the second half.
With so much story to tell and so little time, the characters grow but don’t necessarily develop as such, with Shinji undergoing the most obvious changes. The principals are thankfully rescued from being one dimensional by the strong performances from the top notch cast, who create their own instinctive and credible living versions of these previously animated and drawn figures.
Unsurprisingly the visual effects will be the main focus for many fans and they more than impress, delivering fabulously rendered transformations of the alien form and some wonderfully gory deaths. Migi was possibly the easiest alien to clone via CGI although he occasionally looks a bit to overdone and rubbery, but overall he is believable, thanks also to Shota Sometani’s equally committed contribution to the interactions between Migi and Shinji.
The best way to approach Parasyte: Part 1 is to treat it as its own thing and not to focus on everything you know from the anime or manga, otherwise you are simply setting yourself up for a fall. Yes, this film makes some inevitable changes and takes some liberties along the way, but the central story has been adhered to and visually the horror aspect is as visceral and gory as the anime.
Yamazaki has done a pretty good job with this under the circumstances – critics be damned – and hopefully part 2 will be the icing on this satisfying enough cake.
Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Rating – *** ½
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