Saturday, 9 November 2013

Hiruko: the Goblin

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Producer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Masaki Kudo, Kenji Sawada, Hideo Murota
Year of release: 1990
Country: Japan
Reviewed from: R2 DVD (Artsmagic)

There’s something about this film which isn’t quite right. Something odd, something out of kilter. Something completely separate from the fact that it doesn’t make a shred of sense.

It may not be obvious to the casual viewer, but having studied the film to compile the bio-filmographies on this disk, I can tell you what the problem is. This is a commercial horror film directed by the massively uncommercial cinematic maverick Shinya Tsukamoto, who brought us the impenetrable angst of Tetsuo the Iron Man, Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet. Imagine if David Lynch was hired to write and direct and produce I Know What You Did Last Summer III. It’s a clash of cinematic cultures and the result just somehow doesn’t work.

The plot, such as it is, concerns disgraced archeologist Reijiro Hieda (Kenji Sawada: Samurai Reincarnation, Happiness of the Katakuris) and high school student Masao Yabe (Masaki Kudo) who try to prevent a ‘goblin’ or ‘hiruko’ from opening up a chamber below the school where lots of other goblins live, or something. Hieda knew Yabe’s father Takashi (Naoto Takenaka: Tokyo Fist, Happiness of the Katakuris, and voices for Japanese versions of Pokemon and Disney films) who disappeared while exploring with Reiko Tsukishima (Megumi Ueno: Kamen Rider Black RX) on whom Masao had a crush. Also in the mix is the school’s spooky, apparently psychopathic janitor Watanabe (Hideo Murota: Yakuza Graveyard, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Sure Death 4) who wanders around the deserted buildings with a wicked-looking billhook.

The goblin itself is depicted as being Reiko’s head on spider legs, animated sometimes by very good stop-motion and sometimes by much less effective puppetry. The head has a long, deadly tongue and frequently sings an ethereally romantic ballad. Whenever anyone dies (usually by beheading), their face burns itself painfully onto Masao’s back - just one of many things which are never explained. There’s some sort of crown which Takashi Yabe took from the family home which has some relevance here too, but like most of the plot it’s absolutely impenetrable.

There’s a great deal of chasing down corridors and some gory splattering of blood and the ending, which ups the ‘goblin’ quotient considerably, is quite spooky, but ultimately the whole film is unsatisfying. It is at least watchable, which is more than I can say for any of Tsukamoto’s other pictures, and it’s well acted and technically proficient. But the main problem is that we know nothing about the characters or the situation and have no clear idea what they’re trying to do or how they’re doing it. Several important revelations seem to come from random discoveries which further weakens the, for want of a better word, plot. Hiruko: The Goblin is an interesting curio but too little is explained for the audience to actually connect with the story or characters.

MJS rating: C+
review originally posted 8th May 2005

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