Directed by Shinsuke Satoh, the 2018 film INUYASHIKI stars Noritake Kinashi and Takeru Satoh, two fateful individuals struck by an extraterrestrial force which transforms them into powerful cyborgs. Based on a science-fiction manga by Hiroya Oku, the movie is nothing short of an action-filled adventure with stunning visual and sound effects.
Our unlikely protagonist Inuyashiki Ichirou (Noritake Kinashi) is a middle-aged, unaccomplished salary man. Despite his good nature, he is unappreciated and even looked down upon by his family. Things take a turn for a worse when he is diagnosed with cancer.
After a mysterious explosion in a public park, he returns home confused and immediately learns that his very being has been replaced by an incredibly powerful, but still outwardly human, mechanical body. He quickly realises the extent of his new-found abilities after saving an injured pigeon (coincidentally shot down by Shishigami) and reviving a comatose 10-year-old boy. He then decides to dedicate his powers to heal hospitalised patients with incurable diseases, earning the title of the anonymous “miracle worker” by netizens and the public.
On the other hand, the soon-to-be antagonist Shishigami Hiro played by Takeru Satoh reacts rather differently upon discovering his new mechanised body. He does not hesitate to take innocent lives to achieve his goals, showing no form of remorse even after causing significant damage.
Although there are people he still cares about, the way he goes about protecting them is morally flawed. The pent-up anger in Shishigami slowly turns him into a psychopath who goes about murdering people, whether it is to get even or for pure amusement. His acts of cruelty draw the attention of the police, and he soon turns into Japan’s most wanted criminal.
!!! WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD !!!
The tone is set for the movie right after we see the distinctly different paths both Inuyashiki and Shishigami choose to take after realising what they were capable of with their new cyborg body. While Inuyashiki almost instinctively chooses to do good with his powers, the movie does a bit more justice to the character development of the villain.
We witness a series of unfortunate events that lead to Shishigami eventually losing all good in him. He initially defends his childhood friend from bullies, albeit through questionable means.
This seemingly good act is soon forgotten when he randomly kills off an entire family for the sheer fun of it. He then cures his mother of cancer but does not hold back attacking innocent policemen chasing him. He finally breaks when his love interest Watanabe and her innocent grandmother get ruthlessly slaughtered by a S.W.A.T team after him. Realising that nothing good ever lasts, he resolves in unleashing his rage on the entire country.
Director Satoh did a superb job in building suspense. The movie will keep you at the edge of your seat — there is never a moment you can relax completely as you grit your teeth, wondering when tragedy will strike next. The revelation scenes following the blinding explosion at the park were done especially well, with looming music and sound effects adding to the depth of each take. Viewers can connect with the emotions of the leads in the midst of all the confusion, fear, betrayal and agony.
It was refreshing to see Satoh play a relatively different role from his usual lovable “good boy” image best known from Rurouni Kenshin, taking on an anti-hero persona for this film. The lead characters are also far from two-dimensional as these complex individuals go through real struggles and constantly face internal conflict as the story progresses. Satoh and Kinashi’s performance were both commendable in this aspect.
INUYASHIKI also touches on the fundamental flaws of society, showing the audience that there is no such thing as absolute good or evil, and problematises the very process of criminalising someone.
“Your empty sense of justice cannot overcome my pure hatred,”
(Shishigami to Inuyashiki)
The film cleverly questions the integrity of those in authority, as seen in the merciless shooting by the policemen who completely disregarded the innocent lives of Watanabe and her grandmother, as well as the media cornering Shishigami’s mother which eventually led to her heart-breaking suicide.
We get see how the world we live in today so easily fall prey to the pervasiveness of surveillance and connectivity. Because of how connected we are via technology, Shishigami’s killing spree was made so easy that it will send chills down your spine.
Although INUYASHIKI was able to make viewers empathise with the antagonist, the hero unfortunately lacked similar growth, which might disappoint many manga and anime fans. It almost seemed as if that the motivation of Shishigami was stronger than Inuyashiki’s weak resolve. Even our supposed hero’s final reconciliation with his daughter could be brushed off as a little shallow as it was abrupt. The plot held up well until the climax, but the resolution was a little bland. In the end, at least at face value, Inuyashiki still largely remains a loser, with no significant changes in his beliefs or lifestyle.
That said however, the action sequences and visual effects were thoroughly enjoyable. Not only is the cinematography awesome, INUYASHIKI sheds light on important social issues too. Furthermore, the twist on the typical roles of the dashing young good guy versus the ugly bad guy had a lot of potential, though the plot ultimately loses out on the lack of proper closure.
Verdict: We rate this 3.5 WA out of 5!