Running Time: 88'
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Kenji Sawada, Masaki Kudo, Tomoh Sano, Ken Mitisuishi, Hideo Murota
GHOUL RATING: *** (3-)
Story: Professor Yabe, an archeology expert, discovers a site which seems to have something to do with demons. He disappears, but not before his letter summons his colleague Hieda. Hieda is a nervous, clumsy investigator of the paranormal, defamed for his belief in goblins. When he arrives at the spring-break abandoned school near the site, Yabe's son joins him looking for his father and several missing friends. Pretty soon the only thing that's missing of them are their heads. An unlikely duo is left to battle the spider-like decapitating creature in the dark school hallways and, later on, to find a way to prevent the demon invasion through a 'Gate' nearby…
Review: The most important thing about HIRUKO is having the right kind of expectations. If the name of Shinya Tsukamoto mostly reminds you of power-drill penises, metal rising out of the flesh and all kinds of mutations of the two, you may be disappointed. Also, if you want to watch a film called HIRUKO THE GOBLIN expecting an artsy exploration of Japanese man's millennium angst in the vein of his later films like TOKYO FIST or BULLET BALLET… well, read that title again! Because, what you're in for here is Tsukamoto's homage to SF and horror TV serials of his youth: infantile, silly, with thin and irrational plots and a lot of action. The DVD cover makes a ridiculous claim that the film is 'a surreal cross between David Lynch and David Cronenberg' which must've been copy-pasted from a TETSUO DVD cover by someone who hasn't seen HIRUKO.
This film could be best described as a mixture of EVIL DEAD (minus a charismatic performance of Bruce Campbell) and Carpenter's THE THING (minus groundbreaking and super-elaborate special effects) by way of WIZARD OF DARKNESS (minus the beauty of Kimika Yoshino). Or, to be more specific: zany, overacting characters are trapped in a single location (deserted school) and at the mercy of a shape-shifting demon who's obviously inspired by the famous disembodied-head-sprouting-spider-legs scene from Carpenter's masterpiece. The said demon (or goblin) intends to open the gates of hell and unleash hundreds of his cousins upon mankind. Watch your heads!
The first Tsukamoto's studio picture is certainly his most conventional. There are very few touches that are typically his own – like the frantic camera rides down the deserted school's hallways and close-ups of wide-eyed screaming faces, but the rest is only as weird as a typical Japanese horror (which is still quite a lot for a uninitiated Western viewer!). The concept is decidedly weird: a spider-like creature with ability to take over human heads and animate them, which uses a soft, sugar-coated song to hypnotize others into self-decapitation. The latter leads to a couple of joyful gushes of crimson, but otherwise – there is not much blood. The violence is, just like the rest of the film, comicky and not supposed to be taken seriously. Numerous instances of humor are based on exaggerated actions and reactions, mostly centered on the clumsy professor Hieda and his malfunctioning equipment for goblin-detection. They put HIROKU closest to a comedy that Tsukamoto's ever come. The atmosphere, general attitude, vivid camerawork and rapid editing may remind you of early Raimi phase (while he was making good, innovative movies), but as previously stated – central inspiration came from the B-serials of Tsukamoto's youth.
The story doesn't make much sense – nor does it try to. We get only the vaguest idea about what those creatures are, where they come from and what they want. The unsaid parts should be taken for granted, from other B-flicks (reciting certain words opens or closes the Gate, etc.) or just enjoyed as surrealistic leftovers from art cinema now translated into genre moviemaking. Some of those include: a bicycle ride down the school corridors; a vision-dream in which a boy with a chainsaw joins his girl's family picnic; the same girl's face singing, her face slightly above the water surface, while the mist is hovering and the spider legs emerging around the head… The camerawork is excellent, special effects serviceable (slightly on the cheesy side, but well suited to the light, schlocky tone of the film) and the only thing that's sorely missed is the music by the Tsukamoto regular Chu Ishikawa (here replaced by a generic, non-memorable soundtrack).
HIRUKO THE GOBLIN is a fine, enjoyable horror-fantasy-comedy, warmly recommended to all those big, but not really grown up boys who cherish B-flicks and comics in which the fantasy is outrageous, ridiculous and fast-paced. This is a no-brainer (or should I say no-header?): the fact that it's made by the director on his way to receive a Special Jury Prize in Venice (for A SNAKE OF JUNE) only makes it more entertaining.