Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gyo (2012)

College student Kaori is visiting Okinawa with two of her school friends, leaving her fiancé Tadashi behind in Tokyo for a bit. Little does she expect the near future to bring the End of the World™. Soon enough, fish with insectoid legs who smell like death step on land, literally overrunning whatever gets in their way; unless they are sharks on legs - those also like to take a good bite.

When the horror reaches Tokyo, and Kaori loses contact with Tadashi, she decides to return to the capital to find him, but the girl's search is frequently hindered by the ever weirder threat. The fish, you see, are only the product of a peculiar bacterium that may or may not have something to do with Japanese experiments during World War II, and the legs are in truth strange, gas-driven contraptions that like to catch anything that is infected with the bacterium - like humans who got stuck by a fish leg.

Soon, an army of the gas-driven, insect-legged dead and even worse things walk around what's left of Japan. Can the world be saved? No.

Well, I don't know why, of all the things the great mangaka Junji Ito has written and drawn, one would decide to make an anime OVA out of his weakest long form effort, but director Takayuki Hirao did, and here I am, watching it as soon as fansubs have become available. Clearly, I'm a sucker for Junji Ito.

Even though the anime takes quite a few liberties with the manga, it does admirably keep with the spirit of Ito's work for most of the time. There's a bit of sleaze added (something Ito just doesn't seem very interested in), but that's about as far as the philosophical differences between manga and anime go.

So Gyo the anime is just as grotesque  - I'm talking "hulking heaps of bloated green living dead corpses bound together by tubes through mouth and anus walking around on gigantic insect legs that are driven by the gas the corpses produce" grotesque here, and just as plain freakishly weird as Ito's manga, never letting down its barrage of increasingly disturbing and/or funny images. As is often the case with Ito's work, the anime too reaches the point where the grotesque and the silly are difficult to distinguish from each other, and it's not completely clear if the audience is supposed to be freaked out about what it sees on screen or laugh about it. Both are hysterical reactions that seem equally appropriate to the things happening in Gyo; only from time to time, for example when we meet Tadashi's mad scientist uncle, does the film clearly come down on the sight of the funny-silly.

While this is all fantastic if you like Ito's grotesque apocalypses, Gyo also shares the two major problems of the manga (which, one might argue, are connected to typical weaknesses of Ito's body of work in general that usually are less problematic than they are here). Firstly, the plot is a complete mess, jumping from one bizarre set piece to the next without ever making much of an effort to connect them, either dramatically or thematically; there's some not very closely explored subtext about the Japanese society "stinking of death", but that's as far as the film's ever willing to go.

Secondly, whenever the human element is supposed to help heighten the dramatic tension the plot (such as it is) can't provide, Gyo falls flat on its fishy ass, for the character's internal lives lack coherence as much as the plot does. Even hysteria and madness need to make sense.

On the other hand, it's not the human drama one comes to witness when approaching a Junji Ito adaptation, but the weird, the very weird, and the world-ending weird, and these are things Gyo the movie is willing to deliver with as much enthusiasm as Gyo the manga. I for one am just glad to not only get to see an anime adaptation of one of Ito's works, but an anime adaptation that does not try to make the man's work more normal or streamlined.


No comments: