Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Yôkai hantâ: Hiruko / Hiruko the Goblin (Japan, 1991)

Take the Three Stooges, reduce them down to two, make them Japanese and then put them in hell and you more or less have Hiruko the Goblin... the problem is, the concept itself is much better than the film.
Released in 1991, Hiruko the Goblin was sandwiched between Shinya Tsukamoto's two excellent films Tetsuo, the Iron Man (1989) and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992). Considering how interesting and original the two Tetsuo films are, it is a bit hard to comprehend how Tsukamoto could go so totally wrong with Hiruko the Goblin. Like the two Tetsuo films, Hiruko is an odd film; but unlike the Tetsuo duet, Hiruko is hardly even an interesting film. It fails as both a horror film and as a comedy, and so lacks any and all suspense that it becomes tedious to watch—an almost amazing feat, considering the number of interesting possibilities the plot offers. True, blood does spurt and there are occasional scenes of eight-legged, human-headed spiders skittering around, but nothing that Tsukamoto serves in this cinematic blunder is in any way memorable.
Well, that’s not 100% true: the film is actually memorably forgettable. How forgettable is this flick? I saw it last week and I already need my notes to even faintly remember what happened.... I can remember the dust mouse in the corner of the room, the date of the magazine on my buddy's table (May 2007), the brands of the beer we drank (Berliner Pilsner, Lübtzer Pils, Staropramen) and the color of the toilet paper in his bathroom (pink with blue flowers, so I do hope his wife bought it), but I don't remember anything about the film—other than that it bored the hell out of me. Well, I do remember one thing: how everyone in the room (including me) groaned in disbelief at the ending when some bad CGI was used to infer that the souls of the various dead were now free to go to heaven.
As mentioned before, the plot is one that is open to possibilities, both as a horror film and as a comedy: In a small village somewhere in Japan the local school stands upon the gateway to hell. Long sealed, the demons lie in wait for the day the door is opened and they can once again freely roam the earth. The scientist Dr. Masao Yabe (Masaki Kudou) discovers and explores the passageway to hell, the result of which is that he and the young schoolgirl Reiko (Megumi Ueno) get dragged down to hell and one demon seemingly either escapes or develops the power to come and go from hell as it pleases. It runs around on eight legs decapitating people as it searches for the key to the gateway. An archaeologist inventor (Kenji Sawada) and the Dr.'s son Takashi Yabe (Naoto Takenaka) appear on the scene and, like some Asian version of Ghostbusters, undertake to save those kidnapped to hell and stop the demons. A lot of unfunny Sam-Rami-inspired chase scenes occur and some blood splatters as the two do everything they can to stop the foreshadowing apocalypse...
Actually, the whole thing about unlocking the doorway to hell sort of went over my head. I mean, the first scientist did it already, and the two heroes do it at least once, too. OK, I understand that the heroes might need a special spell to put the Hiruko back into hell, but why couldn't all demons go through the door the other times it was open... it isn't like the heroes closed it behind them when they walked down the passageway. Like, why didn’t the demons swarm then? And why do they even need a door when the local pond seems to function as a skylight to hell? Furthermore, Hiruko obviously has some way of going in and out, for she always drags all the decapitated heads back to hell with her when she wants to nap...
In all truth, Hiruko the Goblin perhaps might maybe possibly be an interesting viewing experience for fans of weird films that either have never seen any other Shinya Tsukamoto movies or are less demanding in their expectations in general. The movie does have a mildly satisfying scene or two, and it is definitely one of Tsukamoto's most accessible and mainstream films... but then again, why waste the time watching a third-rate product for one or two mildly satisfying scenes?

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