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Parasyte: Part 1
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by Jay Seaver

"It got into my hand and it went pretty well, all things considered."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: When I was mentioning "Parasyte" to a friend as something I was kind of considering skipping because these multi-part manga adaptations that are Japan's biggest blockbusters these days can eat a big chunk of the schedule. He quickly piped up that the manga was one of his favorites, so I penciled it in, not needing that hard a sale where "teenager whose right hand is a shapeshifting monster seeks to combat the monsters who control whole people" is concerned. That it's kind of a blast isn't necessarily surprising; that it's an impressive enough combination of teen angst, man-eating monsters, and cartoon slapstick to recommend it to those not necessarily enamored of that combination (depending on how good "Part 2" turns out) kind of is.

The parasites don't know what they are as they hatch in the bay and come ashore in Tokyo; they're just following instincts to enter human bodies through the ear canal and, having consumed the brain and bonded with the body, feed, mainly on human beings. Shinichia Izumi (Shota Sometani) is relatively fortunate to be sleeping with earbuds in; but he can't do much aside improvise a tourniquet when the thing burrows into his hand. Soon that hand is stretching, acting on its own, manifesting eyes and a mouth, and calling itself "Migi". The fiercely pragmatic Migi (voice of Sadao Abe) isn't going to risk any harm coming to the bloodstream that brings it nutrients, but hiding it from his mother (Kimiko Yo) and lifelong friend Satomi Murano (Ai Hashimoto) is awkward, and that's before Migi starts detecting others like him, including the school's new chemistry teacher Ryoko Tamiya (Eri Fukatsu). Seeing everything as an experiment, she introduces Shinichi/Migi to two others in her network, "student" Hideo Shimada (Masahiro Higashide) and a cop who would rather Shinichi not no the name of the life he's taken over, going by "Mr. A" (Mansaku Ikeuchi) - the latter of which decides to treat Shinichi as a threat. And then--

Well, there's a lof of "and then". Though the original Parasyte was described to me as a relatively short manga, running eight volumes and not heading off on tangents like other popular Japanese comics, you can still see the serial structure in the movie, with what would have been big cliffhangers having to be resolved almost immediately and new characters and situations introduced throughout. It gives the movie an unusual ebb and flow not unlike binge-watching a TV series without episode breaks, so after about 80 minutes I found myself wondering if this was the big movie-ending cliffhanger. Screenwriter Ryota Kosawa does do a fair job of compacting it, with the only real issue being that certain things that were supposedly going on already are kind of casually introduced when the plot needs them.

The benefit of this is that the movie has time to build, allowing much of the first half to focus on Shinichi and Migi in often-comedic fashion, with jokes about how Migi being such a fast learner means Shinichi's hand may soon be smarter than his brain and a montage of goofy things happening at school. The design for Migi is actually kind of cute, with the effects handled well and Sadao Abe's voice performance making the little guy a bit of an annoying know-it-all, curious but pointedly not terribly affectionate, and it's not hard to imagine a movie where Shinichi and his wacky hand have funny high school misadventures.

Of course, we've seen a few gross-out scenes already, and when Shinichi is confronted with the fact that Migi is relatively tame as parasites go, it's suitably wrenching and horrifying, and director Takashi Yamazaki does an impressive job of stepping the tension and threat level up several times, from an isolated violent incident to a constant threat to dangerous situations both larger and more immediate. The shapeshifting parasites become more obviously monstrous than a sort of blob at the end of Shinichi's hand, especially since it's heads morphing and not particularly feeling the need to mimic human facial features then. Still, the FX crew is making fun creatures, full of stalks and tentacles and extra eyeballs but also colorful and not covered in particularly sexual imagery. They're often doodles come to life, even if they are still good for a jump as they appear and leave a fair amount of gore in their wake. Yamazaki, screenwriter Ryota Kosawa, and original manga-ka Hitoshi Iwaaki push the ick factor pretty far but maintain a fair amount of curiosity about what else can happen.

The cast is generally good enough not to get overshadowed by the effects, although it's also a case where enough of the characters are at least partially inhuman that it can be distancing. Eri Fukatsu, for instance, has to play Ryoko as cold experimentation personified and while she's generally chilling, there are times when flatness could either be who the parasite is and maybe not quite the right performance choice. That's also the case with Shota Sometani, who gives Shinichi a lot more humanity than he'd get in other movies - the filmmakers have him freaking out over the violence he witnesses and is part of a lot longer and more emotionally than is often the case, but when Migi is starting to exert more influence later on, it seems more unnatural, although that's as much the result of a hurried script as anything else. It's at least countered by a charismatic Ai Hashimoto as the girl next door, along with Migi being a fun foil both visually and from the way Abe voices him.

One of the impressive things about the film is how it never seems to be hiding Migi or pulling back from opportunities to show parasite craziness; the effects aren't always quite seamless, but they're good, and there's never a feeling of counting effects shots or seeing a clear tradeoff between length and quality that has been the case in other live-action adaptations of manga where the artist could really let loose. Yamazaki directs the film with confidence, staging pretty good action and also keeping the audience thinking about potential co-existence even as the final cliffhanger is heading the other direction.

You could say that the movie did its job by having me excited to see "Part 2", but the truth is, I'd probably still really like it even if the two hadn't shot back-to-back and something kept the finale from happening. "Parasyte: Part 1" may not be perfect, but it balances intensity, excitement, gross-outs, whimsy, and some intriguing science-fiction ideas better than a lot of these movies handle one, quickly becoming a favorite.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=30691&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/17/16 09:38:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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