Running Time: 127 mins.
Release Date: April 20th, 2018
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Writer: Hiroshi Hashimoto (Screenplay), Hiroya Oku (Original Manga)
Starring: Noritake Kinashi, Takeru Satoh, Kanata Hongo, Fumi Nikaido, Yuki Saito, Yusuke Iseya, Mari Hamada, Ayaka Miyoshi, Nayuta Fukuzaki,
Ever since his debut The Princess Blade (2001), director Shinsuke Sato has helmed action-packed films with a particular focus on live-action adaptations of manga. Titles in his filmography include Death Note: Light Up the New World, Library Wars, and I Am a Hero. He also sat in the directors chair for the two adaptations of Hiroya Oku’s manga Gantz which were released in the early 00s. Most are slick and solid and his style is improving all the time with Inuyashiki, which is based on another of Oku’s works, being his best yet. This is like a coherent, sanitised, high-budget take on Tetsuo The Iron Man.
Ichiro Inuyashiki (Noritake Kinashi) is a downtrodden salary-man on his way out and he is our hero.
Bullied at work, despised at home and freshly diagnosed with cancer, his life looks like a large miserable mess. His only friend is a stray dog named Hanako who offers sympathetic attention on their long walks but things take a drastic turn when he gets involved in an explosion of blue light caused by a collision with an alien craft. When Ichiro regains consciousness, he discovers that he has been transformed into a cyborg. He may not have noticed had it not been for a bowl of miso soup causing something of a systems freak out that made guns sprout from his arms and flabby torso. Understandably horrified by this Tetsuo turn of events he tries his best to continue his daily routine of put-upon office drone but finds that his super powers have not only saved his life and made him tougher but allow him the chance to actually save the lives of others which is what does when he heals a children’s ward’s worth of kids. This is how he feels human again.
Meanwhile, Hiro Shishigami (Takeru Satoh), a high school student, was also involved in the very same explosion, has been turned into a cyborg by the same aliens, and has gained the very same the powers. Not only is he the complete opposite in age, physical health and dominance, he has a different outlook on life. With a psychopathic disregard for others and a cold-hearted callousness to pain and suffering, in order to feel human again he uses his powers to kill others and it soon gets out of hand but it will take more to shake Ichiro and make him shed the cowardly behaviour and be a hero.
The film’s build-up to this moment is slow as Shinsuke Sato creates moments for his actors to perform their roles and make their characters compelling whether it is an excruciating family meal in the Inuyashiki household or a heart to heart between mother and son on a walk home for Shishigami. Enough time is spent on building the human relationships that when the cyborg action happens we are invested in every second.
Ichiro is sympathetic especially we see him browbeaten by his harsh wife Marie (Mari Hamada), an indifferent son, and a daughter full of vile vituperative named Mari (Ayaka Miyoshi). The emotional callousness of the family and the embarrassment and hopelessness Ichiro feels comes across as very real. The camera picks out the beaten body language of the patriarch and his depressed look in the face of the more vigorous and aggressive teenage daughter but she will be a motivating factor for the fight since she is Shishigami’s classmate and audiences will surely root for father and daughter to reconnect and get along.
It is clear that Shishigami is Ichiro’s inverse but far from being an irredeemable one-note character, his motivations are rooted in something akin to understandable motivations tinged with teenage callousness and alienation. His powers amplify his mind-set and malicious actions borne by his frustrations as he murders an innocent family but he has shreds of decency when it comes to his most important relationships, a bullied friend named Ando (Kanata Hongo, star of Goth – Love of Death), his single mother Yuko (Yuki Saito) and a love-struck classmate named Shion (Fumi Nikaido at her most doe-eyed and cutest). Takeru Satoh who was stunning in Rurouni Kenshin, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, really excels as the bad guy in balancing between cold and calculating but also capricious and kind-hearted at times. He retains his sparkle of youth but has an added muscular heft as can be seen with his sculpted body which compares well with Noritake Kinashi’s sagging middle-aged one as the theme of age is further explored.
This character build-up serves as a fitting prelude for Shishigami’s extreme murderousness as the third act gets going with a series of massacres. At my most critical of the film, I would say could have been trimmed down but it fits the narrative and sets up the final battle where the decent-looking CG explodes into life in an extended battle that pits the older and younger cyborgs against each other in the heart of Shinjuku. The government buildings and the yokocho of that district become the assault course where characters fly around and dodge traffic, rope in civilians into their fights, and batter each other in a knock down drag out fight complete with mid-flight mid-fight POV shots, ducking and weaving between cars in a tunnel with the camera dancing around the combatants, bursting through buildings and the camera twisting around vertically to watch the characters leap over signage that is splayed up and down the vertical spires they fly between.
It is a rip-roaring sequence that will leave audiences dizzy with excitement as the two actors bring their arcs into an explosive finale and the older man draws upon his goodness to give him the edge that may win him the battle. He may be out of shape but he is a hero and we all need those! He leaves the door open for a sequel, something I would welcome.
Inuyashiki is a well-plotted and enjoyable action film that can be turned into a franchise. It is not just a live-action movie, it has been the recipient of an anime adaptation available on Amazon Prime Video which I can recommend. It is even bloodier than the movie.