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by Jay Seaver

"Kids with tech are way more dangerous than the older guys with it."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As much as the usual position of a fan is to look for fidelity in an adaptation, I was rather hoping that the feature film version of "Inuyashiki" would fix up a few problems the manga had, most importantly that the creator apparently found himself more interested in the villain than the title character. The filmmakers cut out some of the fat to be sure, but what they've come up with turns out to be a pretty faithful adaptation, warts and all. It's still kind of a blast, and who knows, maybe sequels will let them have a freer hand later.

Ichiro Inuyashiki (Noritake Kinashe) is younger than he looks, but that still leaves him in late middle-age, not as far up the corporate ladder as he probably should be, a disappointment to his wife (Mari Hamada) and an embarrassment to daughter Mari (Ayaka Miyoshi) and son Takeshi (Nayuta Fukuzaki). They don't much like the stray corgi he let follow him home, either. While walking Hanako one night, he winds up very much in the wrong place at the wrong time, as a spaceship crashes right on top of him. Fortunately, the alien tech is quite capable of repairing itself and the park, leaving no trace of itself - but part of what it repairs is Ichiro, who wakes up feeling better than he has in years but having no appetite for anything more than a little water. That's because he's a highly advanced android now, incredibly strong, able to interface with any technology, even equipped with weaponry and the ability to fly, although as a timid and non-confrontational man, he's nervous to test these abilities. Trouble is, he wasn't the only one at the park, and Hiro Shishigami (Takeru Satoh) is a teenage outcast mad at the world.

Director Shinsuke Sato and screenwriter Hiroshi Hashimoto don't change much from the manga, and perhaps one of the most notable changes of necessity likely doesn't seem very big: The film's Ichiro is not so extremely old and feeble as the manga. He's certainly not exactly bursting with vitality and comes across quite beleaguered, but that gives star Noritake Kinashi room to put the focus on Ichiro's attitude, rather than just his capabilities. Kinashi projects a simple, genuine decency compared to the villain's detached sociopathy. It's a good but not preachy version of the much-retweeted quotation about not knowing how to explain you should care about other people, and also superhero 101, but effective.

Inuyashiki is more like an American superhero movie than many adaptations of Japanese comics, in part because it is in large part built more around the villain than the hero: Shishigami is the one who has a friend who serves as a confidante and a potential girlfriend who becomes entwined in his story; he moves the story forward far more than Ichiro. Satoh dives into it, at least, making Shishigami a thoroughly reprehensible villain and chewing the scenery without winking too hard. He's got a nice supporting pair in Kanata Hongo and Fumi Nikaido, and though Ayaka Miyoshi doesn't get nearly as much to do as Mari, which is unfortunate; she does the transition from snotty to astounded well, and could have been a bigger part of the last act.

It would have been kind of interesting to have one of the younger Inuyashikis have a bigger role, because underneath the high concepts and big action, there's an idea or two that could potentially resonate in how the two new androids adapt: Shishigami not only recognizes his new capabilities easily, but he quickly interfaces with other technology to give himself an ability to lash out that quite frankly plays as too much in the movie. The whole thing kind of makes sense when looked at in terms of kids picking up new technologies and finding unexpected uses for them in a way that their elders don't, although it's also kind of simplistic to make the tech-savvy kid the villain and the older guy the hero. There's also a bit of a thread about how they handle not just having power, but finding themselves separate from humanity (which was a bit more of an issue in the manga), but it's only touched on briefly here.

Not that you can necessarily blame Sato and company for instead concentrating on delivering the action. The action and effects do a fair job of capturing the manga's stark, slick black-and-white imagery (original creator Hiroya Oku uses digital tools more than many others in Japan, and it gives his works a bit of a head start for live-action adaptations), and the effects look pretty good for something likely a bit below blockbuster level. It's kind of antiseptic at times, as it's the sort of story that goes in for a pretty high level of violence to show it's not messing around, and the combination of that excess and commercial worry about appearances and later TV broadcasts results in a lot of bloodless headshots. Sato is Japan's go-to guy for this sort of polished manga adaptation and it shows, with him showing an especially impressive handle on aerial action. That in particular seems like it would be neat in 3D if movies get released that way in Japan.

The action is good enough and the concept straightforward enough that I suspect "Inuyashiki" could cross over to a larger audience than the usual fans of Japanese pop culture if given a chance, or would at least be a good candidate for an English-language remake. It's solidly made, has enough going on under the surface to not seem alien, and delivers the big-action goods.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32430&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/16/19 23:33:12
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