Japan is rocked by a series of grisly murders. Dubbed the "Mincemeat Murders" by local press, authorities have no idea who or what is responsible. One night high school student Shinichi Izumi (Shôta Sometani) lies asleep when a slithering alien parasite invades his body. The creature tries to take over Shinichi's brain but due to his headphones is forced to settle for control of his right hand. To Shinichi's horror and bemusement the parasite he eventually names Migi (voiced by Sadao Abe) grows a single eye and mouth and proves friendly, chatty and curious about his host and humanity in general. Migi's mighty morphing abilities also protect Shinichi from his fellow, more menacing parasites whom, having inhabited humans across Japan and beyond, are behind the mass murders as part of their plan to take over the world.
Hitoshi Iwaaki's original manga was a neat mix of body horror and social satire that caused a minor sensation during its original run between 1988 and 1995. Back in the Nineties James Cameron, still high off his computer morphing triumph with Terminator II: Judgement Day (1991) flirted with adapting the property for the screen while later Hayao Miyazaki, of all people, pursued an animated feature as a change of pace for Studio Ghibli. An anime version of Parasyte eventually reached TV screens in 2014, and was well received, while the task of a live action adaptation fell to special effects wizard turned award-winning auteur Takashi Yamazaki. Yamazaki's versatile back catalogue which includes effects laden SF extravaganzas (the derivative but wildly entertaining time travel actioner Returner (2002), live action anime adaptation Space Battleship Yamato (2010)), family fare (Juvenile (2000), Friends: Naki on Monster Island (2011), Stand By Me Doraemon (2014)) and substantial, character driven drama (war drama The Eternal Zero (2013), multi-award-winning nostalgic comedy Always: Sunset on Third Street (2005)) leaves him ideally suited to tackle Iwaaki's story with its quirky, wavering tone. It is no surprise the film was a huge hit in Japan.
Curiously, if perhaps inevitably, some felt Yamazaki missed the mark entirely. Yet speaking as a fan of the manga, Parasyte The Movie – Part 1 reflects its spirit and delivers everything one would hope to see. Yamazaki captures the visceral impact of Iwaaki's surrealistic imagery which includes a recreation of the manga's famous image where a parasite-possessee's head splits open, Starfish-style to devour a dumbstruck housewife. Yet rather than go the lazy route of empty, effects-driven spectacle, Parasyte runs with some provocative philosophical ideas laced with sly black wit, contrasting the sitcom hilarity of Shinichi's predicament with more horrific events elsewhere. The opening montage of global pollution establishes the theme as a key character ponders whether the world would improve drastically were humanity wiped out? As in real life, parasites can be deadly but also useful when it comes to treating an infection.
As the plot unfolds we discover the parasites are curious about their existence and exactly where they fit into the ecology of the planet. This question preoccupies one of the film's most intriguing characters, the alien-possessed Ryoko Tamiya hauntingly played by Eri Fukatsu, star of the hugely popular multimedia series Bayside Shakedown (1999). To Shinichi's horror, Ryoko is a substitute teacher at his high school and thus has the entire student body at her unwitting mercy including his friends. She is also pregnant with a human baby and curious to see how the 'experiment' unfolds and whether parasites and humans can co-exist on this planet. Other parasites look to reshape Japanese society to their benefit by entering politics while the more malevolent among them seem content to keep eating humans. For his part Migi grows increasingly fascinated with human behaviour and biology. At one point he hilariously observes Shinichi secretly yearns to 'copulate' with his feisty gal pal Satomi (Ai Hashimoto) and advises him to 'enlarge his genitals.'
The relationship between Migi and his hapless human host is one of humorous but ambiguous co-dependence. Migi is both mentor and menace, seemingly content to end Shinichi's life should he be discovered but at times genuinely invested in his well-being. As a parasite Migi maintains he only values his own life but, under Shinichi's influence, gradually begins to see all life is precious. Migi proves an oddly lovable goggle-eyed inquisitive while Izumi an engaging, downtrodden teen hero. Shôta Sometani gives an exuberant comic performance. Yamazaki handles the special effects himself which are highly accomplished. The photo-realistic CGI creepy-crawlies are truly nauseating and scenes where they slither up noses or inside ears will give some viewers sleepless nights. Yet the ideas and relationships are what prove most compelling. In particular the emotional core between Shinichi and his mother (Kimiko Yo) which takes a devastating turn. The finale resolves the main story arc but leaves several tantalizing loose ends before unveiling Japanese superstar Tadanobu Asano as the master villain for Parasyte The Movie: Part Two (2015).