Tokyo 2014: Takashi Yamazaki’s ‘Parasyte’ the first installment of the live-action adaptation of the hit manga series

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Written by Ryota KosawaDirected by Takashi Yamazaki
Japan, 2014

For the closing night film, director Takashi Yamazaki unveiled the first installment of the live-action adaptation of Hitoshi Awaaki’s hit manga series Parasyte. Balancing gory violence with a surprisingly heartfelt origin story and just the right amount of comic relief, the film is sure to win over new fans as well as please manga readers.

In contemporary Tokyo, parasitic worm-like creatures are beginning to take over human bodies; invading through the ears or nose and seizing control of the brain, rendering what was once a person into a brutal killing machine. Seventeen year-old Shinishi (Shota Sometani) manages to avoid this fate, thanks to the ear buds that he fell asleep with, and in an effort to avoid getting squished, the parasite dives into Shinishi’s right hand (nicknaming itself Migi, the Japanese word for right). The two retain separate identities, becoming a rare hybrid. Other human hosts, governed by the parasites, act on the instinct of hunger and, unfortunately, the diet of choice is human flesh. To the outside world this manifests as a string of disappearances and grisly murders, but Shinishi and Migi know better.

A sensitive and mild-mannered artist by nature, Shinishi feels conflicted about the parasite invasion. While he views their consumption of humans as murder (although, as Migi points out, it may not be that different from people eating other animals), he is hesitant to act having witnessed firsthand how powerful the human hosts are. But with the police wringing their hands over the rising body count, the situation gets personal when Shinishi’s single mother becomes a victim. No matter how much he wishes that things could go back to the way that they were before Migi wormed his way into his life, Shinishi recognizes that he, thanks to the newfound abilities of his right hand, is the only one who can confront the parasites.

It seems a suitable film to bookend the festival with opener Big Hero 6 as, save for the blood and dead bodies, the stories are quite similar – an unlikely protagonist forced to work together with a non-human entity, with the resulting relationship forming the backbone of the story. Migi, unlike his kinsman, suffers from boundless intellectual curiosity rather than bloodlust; contrasting with Shinishi who is smart albeit not academic. And, as with any budding superhero, Shinishi struggles for much of the film to see Migi as an advantage rather than something that makes him “different” whilst keeping the latter’s existence a secret.

Sometani, already a veteran actor in his native Japan at the ripe age of 22, captures the perfect mixture of innocence and adolescent anxiety that makes Shinishi a compelling underdog protagonist, even in a story rooted so far from reality. Having already starred in Japanese films that played well on the festival circuit, hopefully Parasyte will open new doors for the actor; he’s already been perfecting his English in case Hollywood comes calling.

Parasyte stands out from other body horror films because it has real heart; fully fleshed-out characters that you want to see live through (or die, as the case may be) the big set pieces. And, for all the action junkies, it also has creepily innovative CGI and gruesome deaths you’ll remember long after leaving the theater. Part two, the conclusion, is set for a 2015 release.