New streaming on Netflix!
Directed by Takashi Shimizu.
Written by Naruki Matsuhisa, Eisuke Naitô, Takashi Shimizu, from the Manga by Hideo Yamamoto.
Starring Gô Ayano, Ryô Narita, Seiyô Uchino, Marika Yamakawa, Yukino Kishii, Anna Ishii
When a homeless man living in his car named Susumu (Gô Ayano) is approached by a strange man named Manabu Ito (Ryô Narita) to take part in an experiment to help his memory, Susumu tentatively agrees. But after Manabu drills a hole in the center of his head, Susumu is able to see people as the monstrous incarnations of the trauma and emotions they carry with them. These figures are often warped and twisted versions of themselves. Dubbing them homunculi, which has been represented as small humanoid creatures with small heads, and a large mouth and hands, Susumu and Manabu attempt to help these homunculi understand their emotional issues and come to terms with them as well as piece together Susumu’s own past traumas.
Adapted from a popular manga comic, HUMUNCULUS is one mixed bag of oddity. Tonally, it is all over the place as it starts out as a body horror in the same vein as 2002’s THE EYE (aka GIN GWAI and remade in 2008 starring Jessica Alba), then evolves into a psychological horror where people are forced to revisit past traumas, and finally ends on a note that is so dramatically amped that it is almost cartoonish. It also manages to toss in some sight gags, odd humor, weird CG monsters, and inexplicably, the rape of an underage girl. If you’re looking for something different, HUMUNCULUS definitely is that.
For the most part, HUMUNCULUS is a story about a man attempting to recover his memories and move on from a great tragedy. It takes it’s sweet time to get there with many scenes sidetracking from this plot, but eventually sums everything up in a thorough and somewhat poignant manner. Gô Ayano and Ryô Narita are strong actors and the best scenes in the film feature the both of them as Manabu toys with Susumu about his real intentions and how he can help Susumu get his memory back. It is entertaining seeing all of these different creatures and formations walking down the street as if nothing is wrong as seen through Susumu’s all-seeing eye. These creations are quite imaginative and the ones focused on make for some interesting side quests for our hero to overcome. Though the film clocks in at around two hours, the first hour, focusing on these encounters was thoroughly entertaining and moved briskly.
Well, except for one little section. And boy is that section a doozy. I understand there is a cultural gap and what is ok in one country is sometimes taboo in others, but HUMUNCULUS really ventures into some twisted territory halfway through the film when Susumu and Manabu encounters a teenage girl who seems to have the homunculus of being made of sand. Manabu (a grown man) approaches the girl and attempts to find out more about her. When she flirts back with Manabu, he feels uncomfortable. But not before lifting her cell phone. This leads to a scene where Susumu agrees to drop off the girl’s cell phone in a dark corner of a park. Once in his car, Susumu seems to want to help the girl confront her hidden issues, but then ends up raping the young girl, taking her virginity, and this, somehow, gets to the bottom of the homunculus tormenting her soul and cures her. Now, maybe something is lost in the translation. Maybe there’s some kind of hidden meaning I’m just missing. But this scene seemed completely off-tone for the rest of the film. Not only does it unflinchingly depict a rape of an underage girl by the hero of the film, but it also attempts to explain that this act is what helped this gal get over her problems. Cultural differences or not, this is a tasteless and ultimately unnecessary scene, especially in this day and age and I could see a lot of people tuning out of HUMUNCULUS after they endure it. I almost noped out at this point too.
The second half of HUMUNCULUS again shifts in tone as Susumu begins to remember bits and pieces of his past. While this is a complex revelation, it does unfold in an equally fascinating manner as it isn’t as basic as it first seems to be. Things get rather melodramatic and there are a lot of tearful stares into each other’s eyes in this latter portion. It’s not excruciating, but it does take the story into unexpected places.
HUMUNCULUS is a hard recommend. It definitely delivers something different. I love the concept that we all carry different traumas and on some visual sphere, these traumas show up in vivid and unusual forms. I kind of wish they would have kept with that concept and dropped the whole portion about the lead’s memory loss or at least made that less prevalent to the overall story. HUMUNCULUS is shocking for the aforementioned scene, but the rest of it is quite interesting—delving into original, intelligent, and challenging concepts. I just wish it would have been a more even watch tonally.