Humans - are we the biggest threat to our planet and ultimately our own survival? If the world population were halved, would we also halve the number of forests that are burned and the damage that we’re doing to our natural environment? These thoughts run as a voice-over beginning the full-scale blockbuster adaptation of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s classic manga which was also recently adapted into a critically acclaimed anime. The Parasyte of the title most obviously refers to the extraterrestrial microbes which are climbing into the driving seat of an unsuspecting host’s brain with nothing less than the colonisation of our entire species on their “minds”, yet is it we ourselves who are the real parasites feasting on the corpse of our dying planet? Parasyte is that rare blockbuster treat that is content to give us man-eating, shapeshifting monsters and gore-filled destruction but also wants us to dig a little deeper into our own souls at the same time.
Shinichi Izumi’s mum probably told him not to sleep with his headphones on but luckily they’re about to save his life as a weird little bug tries to crawl into his ears but, finding them blocked, opts for the arm instead. Wrapping the cord around his elbow tourniquet style, Shinichi is able to stop the bug’s progress but the parasite has taken root and Shinichi is horrified to find his right hand is no longer his own but is now controlled by a dispassionate alien that eventually names himself “Migi”.
Shinichi and Migi develop an odd kind of partnership born of their mutual dependency which is threatened only by the presence of other Parasytes who have successfully infiltrated a human brain and can blend in with the general populace (aside from their cold and robotic nature). To his horror, Shinichi discovers a new teacher at his school is actually a Parasyte stooge who recognises the “research” potential of a hybrid team like Shinichi and Migi. Becoming very keen on “experiments”, Ryoko Tamiya has also mated with one of her fellow Parasytes in the hopes of exploring what will happen with the birth - will it be purely a human child seeing as it’s born of two human bodies or will something of the Parasyte get through? However, Ryoko’s “network” of Parasytes aren’t all as committed to scientific research as she is and Shinichi and Migi quickly find themselves becoming humanity’s last line of defence against the invading creatures.
Shinichi is the teenage lead of the picture but in this first part at least it seems to be Ryoko leading the show. She gives us the original voice-over and it’s her burgeoning motherhood that gives the film its clearest ideological standpoint. As the dispassionate Ryoko comes to develop the beginnings of maternal pangs and a desire to ensure the survival of her child (or perhaps just her “experiment”), so Shinichi finds his humanity being erased by the parasitical “child” he is gestating in the form of Migi. At the same time Migi begins to take on a protective mentality towards his host which may be more than simple self preservation, particularly after a traumatic near-death experience bonds the two even tighter together, in a biological sense at least.
Though the film obviously references former genre classics, in particular Invasion of the Bodysnatchers with its difficult to detect pod people, it steers clear of the “red scare” inspired sense of paranoia and the feeling of intense mistrust that exists even between supposedly good friends. Migi is able to sense (to a degree) his own kind, making the presence of potentially dangerous Parasytes easier to detect, but the fact that the Parasytes are able to colonise and use the form of someone all too familiar to confuse their enemies restores something of their power to lurk unsuspected in the shadows.
All this seems to suggest that the big screen live action adaptation of Parasyte would be a fairly serious affair yet the tone is often lighthearted, maintaining the darkly humorous buddy comedy side of the relationship between normal teenager Shinichi and the almost omniscient yet strange Migi. Migi, as played by veteran actor Sadao Abe who is perhaps most closely associated with comedic roles, has a thirst for a different kind of “brains” than his fellow Parasytes and quickly devours any and all knowledge he can get his “hand” on, though he lacks the emotional intelligence to make sense of everything he learns and thus is dependent on his host Shinichi to get a fuller understanding of the human world.
Like the blockbuster mainstream films of recent times Parasyte boasts generally high production values on a par with any Hollywood movie, though it has to be said that the film is often undermined by unconvincing CGI. However, this is mainly a problem with the action scenes and Migi himself is generally well integrated into the action and oddly adorable to boot. In some ways it might have been interesting to see a fully “in camera” take on the effects ala Cronenberg whose spirit is most definitely evoked throughout a film which also harks back to ‘80s body horror with its synth score highlights and generally gruesome scenes of carnage. Though it’s hard to judge the overall effect from just this first instalment of a two-part film which drops a decent number of threads to be picked up in part two, part one at least serves as a tantalising appetiser which only heightens expectations for its final conclusion.