directed by: Takashi Yamazaki
based on the Manga of the same name by Hitoshi Iwaaki
Present time: A group of insectoid parasites of unknown origin befalls randomly selected humans all over the earth. The parasites are entering their sleeping hosts’ bodies through their ears and subsequently take control over the human brains.
While the mind of the host is completely erased and replaced with that of the intruder, the DNA of both organisms merge. The parasite is bound to the human shell, but it can morph the host’s head into a squid-like shape with blade wielding tentacles, looking not unlike some of the creatures we know from the later Resident Evil- games or Carpenter’s The Thing. To keep this complicated entity alive, the parasites have to kill and eat other humans, which soon catches the attention of the police, when the number of missing people piles up during their killing spree that is called the “mincemeat murders” by the press.
One of the infected humans, the high school student Shin’ichi Izumi (Shôta Sometani) from Tokyo, is an exception from the rule. He woke up when the parasite tried to enter his body and could stop it when it was still stuck in his right arm. This way, the parasite could not take over his brain and is therefore limited to his right hand, which is occasionally morphing into a comical looking, but deadly creature who is called “Migi” by Shin’ichi from now on (“Migi” is the Japanese word for “right” in the sense of “right side”). Begrudgingly, both have to find an agreement about this awkward situation, due to the pesky fact that they are now symbionts and cannot survive without each other. Migi’s curiosity about the human life leads to some unpleasant moments though, risking Shin’ichi’s relationship to his friend/secret crush, the pretty Satomi (Ai Hashimoto). Even more problems arise, when not only the cells, but also their minds slowly start to meld, giving them more insights into the respective other’s species’ psyche than they asked for.
It also causes a rift among the other parasites, as some fear this unplanned conjunction could pose a threat for their world-domination plans, while a more reasonable leading parasite, who assumed the identity of Shin’ichi’s high school teacher Ryôko Tamiya (Eri Fukatsu) and is bent to explore the nature of their host bodies, sees Shin’ichi and Migi as an interesting oddity that might be worth studying. In the meantime, the first phase of the secret war between parasites and humans is about to begin.
I have sadly never seen the Anime series and only read the first few issues of the Manga (written and illustrated by Hitoshi Iwaaki, running from 1988-1995), so I cannot provide a proper comparison between this adaptation and the source material. But I can still safely state that this is vastly better than most recent live-action adaptations based on Animes/Mangas. Parasyte is, despite all ingredients for big spectacle being in place, a rather intimate, character-driven story. Like in other Animes/Mangas, a coming-of-age story is neatly wrapped into horror/SciFi tropes, the horrors of growing up metaphorically depicted in a genre flick (see also Devilman). And of course the film is permeated by a subtle nihilistic streak, as we came to expect from Japanese movies.
Teen drama, body horror and dark comedy are surprisingly well balanced and make for an entertaining melange, but it is maybe still a helpful prerequisite to have developed a certain tolerance towards some idiosyncratically Japanese pop culture characteristics, like the well-worn Anime cliches surrounding the archetypical story of the nerd who secretly yearns for his beautiful best female buddy and a penchant for melodramatic bathos that comes through in the last third.
Parasyte`s biggest plus is the story that manages to stay intriguing most of the running time, with its unique spin on familiar elements from other invasion stories. Nothing bad can be said about the acting either, all of the cast members are convincing in their respective roles. Appropriately for the subject, the restrained but slick cinematography is using mainly cold colours, with one scene taking place at a giant aquarium being the visually oustanding moment. One problem most recent Anime live-action adaptations constantly have to deal with is the lack of a huge FX-budget that would be necessary to realize the sweeping fantastic worlds of the source material adequately. The CGI creations shown in Parasyte are below the standard we are used from Hollywood movies and rank merely as serviceable, yet they are looking at least much better in the finished movie than they did in trailers and on movie stills.
My main- and only real- gripe with Parasyte is its format. For some reason, they decided to adapt it as a theatrically released trilogy, but I am convinced it would have worked better as a mini-series. One reason is that it looks and feels like a TV-production, albeit a very good one, maybe because the production company Tôhô does not have the same monetary resources available as an US- production at hand while the target audience remains a comparatively small one.
Another reason is that the script that does not make an effort to shake off the serialized structure of the source material- that would have probably been damaging anyway. The way it is the film feels very episodic and whimsy though, as well as overlong with a meandering suspense curve and a somewhat unsatisfying cliffhanger ending. Paradoxically, at the same time some plot points feel rushed in spite of the generous running time. Adding 30 minutes of scenes that expand on the characterizations of the characters and then splitting the material into episodes of roughly 40 minutes would have done better justice to the source material and also held the audience’s interest even more effectively, while not exhausting them.
The aforementioned rather low key, character-driven approach also works almost better on the small screen in my eyes. This might admittedly be a personal beef I have with serialized story-telling on the big screen, which I am frankly sick to death of. It’s a cash-grabbing trend that only leads to a lack of storytelling discipline and prevents that the movies are able to stand on their own.
Nonetheless is Parasyte a solid watch and a decent waste of time for all fans of the source material and of Japanese films in general. After a few disappointments, this proved to be one of the better Manga- live action adaptations. I suggest to wait till all parts are released and then binge-watch the whole enchilada.