It's interesting to see how other countries tackle superhero movies in the wake of the Marvel juggernaut, and Inuyashiki is Japan's first real attempt at it. Based on Gantz creator's Hiroya Oku's 10-volume manga series, the story follows a downtrodden salaryman-turned-cyborg facing a high school student with the same powers who goes on a killing spree.
I've read the original manga, which is now in English from Kodansha, and watched the anime adaptation on Amazon Prime, so watching a two-hour live-action movie version was going to become an exercise in seeing what kind of changes the filmmakers made to the story and whether or not they work.
The eponymous Inuyashiki is a tired, timid, and prematurely aged salaryman who's a failure at everything. His boss berates him for low sales, his wife is tired of him, his daughter can't stand him, and his son ignores him. When he's diagnosed with terminal cancer, his family is so preoccupied and contemptuous they can't even be bothered to stop to hear him try to break the news to them. So far it looks like a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, until Inuyashiki gets blown up by an alien entity on a heath one night and wakes up to find himself in perfect health and a near-indestructible cyborg body. As you do.
Inuyashiki deals with his new existential crisis by wondering what the point of his life is and finds some purpose in his newfound ability to heal the sick and save people. On the flip side, there was a teenager named Shishigami on the heath with him when the alien struck and was restored with a cyborg body as well. Seething with rage over his broken family, Shishigami goes on an escalating killing spree across Tokyo, and Inuyashiki realizes he may be the only one who can stop him.
It's hard for me to watch the movie without thinking about the changes made to the story from the original manga. The script simplifies the contrast between Inuyashiki and Shishigami by setting the former as a pacifist underdog and the latter as a merciless sociopathic killer. The battle is between Inuyashiki's sentimental humanism with Shishigami's nihilism. Shishigami seethes with rage over the unfairness of his divorced mother haven't to work double shifts at a restaurant while his father has settled down with a younger wife and new kids for a cozy middle-class setting. He seethes at the bullies who pick on his geeky best friend in school. He uses his new powers to kill a family out of rage, and when the police come after him and internet trolls dox his mother and drive her to suicide, he decides to kill everyone in Japan.
The movie charts the escalation of Shishigami's rage as more understandable than the gleeful sociopathy of the character in the manga and anime, and it recreates some of the manga's biggest setpieces with some panache — especially the one where Shishigami hacks into the camera feeds of every smartphone and TV camera in Shibuya and kills anyone who looks at their phone, creating panic as dozens of people die.
This is another of those instances where I think "the original book is better". The script for the movie makes a lot of decisions I found baffling. The movie cuts out completely Inuyashiki's arc where he becomes a vigilante saving people from crime, only without the use of lethal force like Shishigmai does, in order to make him seem weaker to push his underdog status instead of equal. It also goes for a clichéd third act climax where hero and villain punch each other all over the place in the type of CGI fight scene we've seen in over 10 years of Marvel and DC movies. It cuts out Inuyashiki's reconciliation with his family, possibly saving that for a sequel.
Unfortunately, it burns through the major arc of the original manga but holds off on the definitive ending of the manga, even going as far as putting in a mid-credits scene at the end to suggest there will be a sequel. The problem is that the characters and story have been made far less interesting than the original manga to the point where a sequel would just feel repetitive and pointless.
Inuyashiki will be shown at the New York Asian Film Festival on July 15th. Tickets can be bought at the Film Society of Lincoln Center website.