By Roxy Simons.
Ichiro Inuyashiki has it tough; he has no friends, he’s shamed publicly at work on a regular basis, and even his family despise him. His only source of solace is a stray dog named Hanako, but, despite how the world treats him, this middle-aged loser still wants to be a good person. So, it comes as no surprise that when a freak accident leaves him with an incredibly powerful mechanical body he decides to take his newfound powers and use them for good.
While he’s keen to assist those in need, high school student Hiro Shishigami (Takeru Satoh) has other ideas for his abilities, which he developed at the same time and place, as he turns his loathing on anyone that has ever tried to hurt his loved ones. Believing that he is now more god than human, and thus has no need for a moral compass, Shishigami devolves into a cold-hearted killer who terrorises the nation as punishment for their mistreatment of him and his mother. So, as the teen wages war on Tokyo, Inuyashiki (Noritake Kinashi) realises it’s up to him to stop his cyborg counterpart from destroying humanity as we know it, in this thrilling adaptation of the manga by Hiroya Oku (also made into an anime in 2017).
Satoh is chilling as the brooding Shishigami, as his cold-hearted stare ensures the actor is a far cry away from his previous work through his portrayal as the anti-hero. Famous for his likeable turn as the eponymous hero in the Rurouni Kenshin franchise, it is fascinating to see him thrive in such a dark role. He oozes menace as the misunderstood teen, and, while his lack of emotion may become grating, his performance draws the audience in and adds to the tension of the drama. Director Shinsuke Sato even manages to make viewers empathise with Shishigami’s plight at times, as we are given such a detailed look at his troubled backstory that the lines between good and evil are blurred. However, his indiscriminate killing sprees soon changes that.
Kinashi, meanwhile, makes Inuyashiki a compelling hero over time, despite his pitiful nature getting in the way of that to begin with. It’s his good-natured personality and innocent charm that makes this possible, as the character’s intense desire to be there for those in need shines through. He is so often belittled by those around him, though, that it’s surprisingly difficult to feel anything but contempt for most of the secondary characters. When you’re rooting for the villain to get rid of the protagonist’s family because of how annoying they are, then something isn’t quite right, and that detracts from the story’s impact.
Of course, everything is leading to the moment Inuyashiki and Shishigami come head-to-head, and this certainly comes about in a big way. Clearly no expense has been spared when it comes to the film’s visual effects, as the skies of central Tokyo becomes their battlefield. Shishigami and Inuyashiki’s mechanical bodies are impressively rendered on screen, even if the reveals can be quite comical, and the film’s climax is a highlight of the film. It’s a thrilling and action-packed sequence that sees the cyborg duo battle it out, with every blow, kick and punch making an impact as the two titans clash. Albeit sometimes slightly ridiculous, their final skirmish is as explosive as the CGI detonations that they set off on screen.
In an industry saturated with manga adaptations, Inuyashiki is one of the more entertaining ones to come out in recent years. As an adaptation, and the first of a confirmed trilogy, it sets things up well for the sequels to come and, while it’s not devoid of flaws, director Sato has done an excellent job of bringing Hiroya Oku’s vision to life on screen. The two leads also prove to be a force to be reckoned with, so it will be interesting to see where they take the characters in the future. This is a thrilling first outing for the franchise, and certainly makes one excited for the next chapter.
Inuyashiki is screening as part of the Japan Foundation’s Summer Explorers film season at the British Library, London, on 27th July.