Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Biohunter (1995)

aka Bio Hunter

In their copious free time, scientists Komada and Kamagaya are working as self-styled bio hunters, hunting (and sometimes curing, it seems, though the film also calls the state incurable) people infected with the so-called Demon Virus. The virus plays bowling with its victims' genes, leading to charming, often mouth- and tentacle-based transformations and an unnatural hunger for human flesh. Komada himself is infected with the virus, and is able to smell out things and situations standing in connection with the virus. In emergencies, he also transforms into a cross between the wolfman and a classical Japanese demon that is quite different from the forms the other infected the film shows take. Until now, and with Kamagaya's help, he has been able to control and guide his transformations, but both men think that it's only a question of time until Komada will loose his humanity.

By chance, Komada one night stumbles upon a woman chased by three yakuza thugs. He protects Sayaka, as she is called, and because his Virus Sense tingles (practically, he starts to cry whenever virus-related stuff happens), offers her his and Kamagaya's help in her troubles.

Sayaka is the daughter of a famous fortune teller, who seems to have foretold something an influential client wasn't too happy about.

Sayaka's dad is hiding out somewhere in the countryside, so the scientists and the woman make their way to find him and protect him from his enemies. Our heroes will learn soon enough that the dangerous prophecy had something to do with the Devil Virus, a prospective prime minister, and a series of murders that is shaking Tokyo right now.

When I tell you that Biohunter begins with a sex scene in which a woman's breast grows a mouth and munches off her partner's hand, you'll probably not be too surprised to hear that Yoshiaki Kawajiri was involved in the OVA's production. This time around, Kawajiri may have only been responsible for the script, but his DNA is still all over the anime. The directorial credits go to Yuzo Sato, but a look at his filmography - this being his first job as a director with the next one coming seven years later with a lot of work mostly on the animation side, and in part in other Kawajiri projects, in between - suggests to me he wasn't exactly the leading light here, so I'm going with my gut feeling that this is very much a Kawajiri anime. On a technical level, Biohunter looks and feels as you'd expect from this sort of anime - the animation is solid, the human character design more solid than inspired, the pacing fine, and the voice actors are convincing enough.

Nearly a decade after Wicked City, Kawajiri still liked to milk the whole "tentacles plus gore plus breasts plus solid action plotting with slight philosophical bend equals instant fun" formula, and I can't say I blame him for it, given how much it agrees with his sensibilities and my tastes. As is typical for nearly everything by Kawajiri I've seen, there's a sense of actual intelligence surrounding the film that shows itself in clever details like the big difference between the way the deeply human Komada's monster form looks in comparison to the other infected we get to see, emphasising how different from them he is on the inside, too; obviously, Komada's monster form (and his frequent reactions to the moon), is also a large nod in the direction of classical Hollywood werewolf lore.

The script also sets up some interesting comparisons between the (pseudo-)scientific way the scientists explain the Virus, and the metaphysical/superstitious language the fortune teller prefers. In the film's context, it's pretty clear that both are attempts to put into language experiences neither the language of science nor that of mysticism were truly built for; in the end, no-one's interpretation of the Virus is wrong, but nobody's is completely right either. Which really is pretty clever for a gory little monster anime that wouldn't necessarily need to have any thoughts at all to find its audience. It is also more respectful of human endeavour than the usual stuff about the need to put one's feelings before one's rationality to truly understand things, I think.

Perhaps not as clever, but at least pretty amusing is to find the film arguing that a politician makes for an especially mean monster because he's already got no moral compunctions or an ethical backbone even before he turns into a monster. The cynic (or is it the realist?) in me agrees with this assessment.

But all the hidden cleverness and technical solidity wouldn't amount to much without Biohunter's slight detours into weirdness. These detours aren't excessive for anime or Kawajiri's work, but when one is talking about things like the hero's hand getting blown off in an explosion, hitching a ride on a helicopter, and later rescuing the hero's love interest and telling him where to find her, "not excessive" is quite a relative description.


No comments: