Parasyte was an award-winning manga series that ran from the late ‘80s to the mid-‘90s. Like most things released during that time period, Parasyte was revived in the 2000s. In this case it was two live action movies – Parasyte: Part 1 and Parasyte: Part 2, both directed by Takashi Yamazaki (Space Battleship Yamato). Both films made their Quebec premieres at the 2016 Fantasia Festival and I’m really glad they were shown early in the afternoon because I’m not a coffee drinker and both Parasyte films are like adrenalin shots to the eyeballs.
A sharp blend of gruesome sci-fi horror and comedy, the films tell the story of a parasitic alien species that infests Tokyo. These small, worm-like creatures crawl into people’s ear and take over their brain, changing their cellular structure to make them flesh-eating, shape-shifting creeps. They pass as human just fine (if a little emotionless), but when they’re ready to feed or attack, the heads contort into these crazy tentacle monsters that look absolutely wicked. The very first transformation/kill garnered howls from the Fantasia crowd.
Petulant teen Shinichi (Shota Sometani) happens to have fallen asleep with his earbuds in. So when an alien worm tries to get in, he’s blocked and only manages to infect Shinichi’s right hand. The hand-alien (handlien?) is highly intelligent and observant and calls himself “Migi,” the Japanese word for “righty.” With his straightforward logic about human behavior, Migi is the source of much of the film’s comic relief. Gradually, Shinichi forms an alliance with Migi (though masturbation is pretty awkward) and the two begin to unravel the parasites’ plan for the human race. You can probably guess what it is. Did you say wipe them out? That’s a bingo.
Parasyte: Part 1 is a whirlwind of a film, with heaps of action, wild special effects, and horrific deaths, all with a sincere beating heart at its middle. The relationship between Shinichi and his mother anchors much of Part 1 and leads to dramatic moments of heartbreaking proportions. The small human moments are what make all the cartoon violence and grisly mayhem have true impact. Shinichi has to come to grips with a lot of insanity and tragedy in this first film, which leads to his transformation into a superhero-type, parasite-hunting vigilante in Part 2.
For a moment, imagine if there was a Gremlins 3 and instead of maintaining the horror-comedy tone of Gremlins and Gremlins 2, Billy Peltzer sat around with Gizmo and talked about what it means to be human and our effect on the planet. Imagine that and you’ll understand the sharp tonal shift between Parasyte Part 1 and 2.
Part 2 still has tons of crazy action and tense moments, but the shift in tone is so severe it took away from a lot of the excitement I had built in my chest after the first film. On the flip side, Part 2 does have some great payoffs.
In the final two hours, the parasites have infiltrated politics in Tokyo and become like a well-oiled, sociopathic machine. Much of the philosophical questions about humanity and whether it deserves to go on is put forth by parasite Ryoko (Eri Fukatsi), who’s on the fence about human extinction. She’s in stark opposition to ultimate parasite baddie Goto (Tadanobu Asano), who pulls no punches about his intention to destroy all humans.
The action scenes are really spectacular, particularly Shinichi’s final fight. Much of the clashes are just that – the clanging between parasitic tentacles shaped like blades. Gradually the fights get more sophisticated, especially as Shinichi learns how to use his new half-breed powers. The bond that forms between him and Migi begins as comic, but by this final rumble, it’s a co-dependence that brings mounds of drama. I was shocked how much I cared for that little handlien.
Really funny and impressively gruesome, the Parasyte duology is worth seeking out if you dig your imports wild and weird, but with plenty to say about the crazy world we live in.
The film screened at the ongoing Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.
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