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Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack
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by Jay Seaver

"Animated Great White Sharks with spider legs on land. I'm in."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Gyo" packs a whole bunch of messed-up into a very short running time, and while to a certain extent that's the way it should be - once you've started freaking an audience out, do not stop! - there's a risk of going too far, too fast. Especially when your starting point is "fish with spider legs crawl onto land and attack!"

The fish first make landfall in Okinawa, where Kaori, Erika, and Aki are taking a post-graduation vacation at a beach house owned by the family of Kaori's fiancé Tadoshi. There's already hostility brewing between the sort of trampy Erika and mousy Aki even before things get weird, and then when Kaori returns to Tokyo to investigate a cut-off telephone call from Tadoshi with freelance photographer Tsuyoshi in tow, since he's looking to score an interview with Tadoshi's uncle (Professor Koyanagi is the closest thing to an expert that exists) - things just get freakier in both places.

Unrestrained freakiness is the calling card of Gyo's creator, horror manga-ka Junji Ito, who uses his medium to visually conjure any nightmare he can think of without holding back. The first walking fish is only the start; soon the movie has got Great White Sharks marauding on land, infections affecting humans in grotesque ways, disgusting medical experiments on the results, and huge schools of everything making it very clear that the situation has escalated to apocalyptic in no time. Surprisingly, this is the first animated adaptation of Ito's work (though there have been many live-action Tomie pictures), and filmmaker Takayuki Hirao runs with it. It's a rare moment when the film seems to be holding back.

It's admittedly not the greatest animation you'll ever see - the budget is somewhat limited, resulting in elements that sometimes seem mis-matched, with human characters looking somewhat flat compared to the carefully shaded monsters or background elements too still or lacking in detail. It also wasn't immediately clear when something was supposed to be a biological or mechanical monstrosity. Much of that is quibbling, though; the filmmakers still make their characters expressive, both facially and with body language, and everything moves in just the right way, even when moving quickly. There are some pretty spectacular large set pieces, too, which would have likely been too much for an uncompromised live-action adaptation.

Whether animated or live-action, horror movies ultimately boil down to "is it scary", and Gyo passes that test more often than not. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the best thrills and jolts come as Erika and Aki leap at each other's throats - the boiling over of human tension is universally good material, even if people scoff at more fantastical elements - but Hirao and company do a fine job of making everything work. Their biggest fault is overreaching, really - they're still introducing new elements that they don't have time to develop until the end.

But let's not fault "Gyo" for an excess of ambition - it achieves a great many of its goals, and I would honestly have been satisfied with "make great white sharks with spider legs scary instead of ridiculous". This makes them thrilling, so everything else is gravy.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23860&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/25/12 01:00:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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