Film / Reviews

Surviving the night of the long tentacular knives in ‘Parasyte: Part 2’

by Mark Schilling

Special To The Japan Times

When we left Shinichi (Shota Sometani) and his inseparable parasite companion Migi at the end of Takashi Yamazaki’s 2014 sci-fi/horror hit “Kiseiju” (“Parasyte: Part 1”), the space-alien organisms who had found human hosts in the city of Higashi Fukuyama were not only slaughtering humans for food — with tentacles that snapped like whips and cut like knives — but organizing for what looked to be a takeover of the planet, with City Hall as a base and the newly elected mayor (Kazuki Kitamura) as a creepily smooth frontman.

How can one high school kid, albeit one with parasite-like fighting powers (courtesy of Migi, the alien organism living in his right hand), hope to stop them? But in Yamazaki’s follow-up, “Kiseiju Kanketsuhen” (“Parasyte: Part 2”), a glint-eyed Shinichi goes out fearlessly to hunt for parasite prey in revenge for a certain parasite outrage in “Part 1.”

His sweet-but-feisty girlfriend Satomi (Ai Hashimoto) fears he is slipping away from her, and Shinichi himself is disturbed by the changes he senses. Is he doomed to devolve into a one-of-a-kind hybrid — human in appearance, but an emotionless parasite at heart?

Meanwhile, the police, led by an intrepid SAT (Special Assault Team) leader (Kosuke Toyohara) and a skeptical police inspector (Jun Kunimura), battle an enemy that is hiding in plain sight in human guise. They find a loathsome ally in an unrepentant serial killer (Hirofumi Arai) who can tell humans and parasites apart. But the parasites have evolved into formidably scary forms, with the most menacing being Goto (Tadanobu Asano), a merciless killer parasite who can attack in ways mere bullets can’t stop.

Based on Hitoshi Iwaaki’s best-selling manga, the film seems headed toward a battle royale between the cops and Goto’s minions, but Yamazaki and co-scriptwriter Ryota Kosawa complicate the story with a question uncommon in alien-invasion flicks: What if, instead of devouring and dominating humanity, some of the parasites wanted coexistence?

One of the latter is Ryoko Tamiya (Eri Fukatsu), a teacher at Shinichi’s high school, who has given birth to a human baby and begins to see it as more than an interesting experiment. She also realizes that, as helpless as humans might look against sharp-edged tentacles, they can be dangerous indeed when united in a common cause: the survival of their race.

As this tense drama plays out, punctuated by CGI effects that look vaguely cartoonish — until they grab for the audience’s collective throat — we see that the story’s real battleground is Shinichi’s soul. This merciless parasite hunter finds himself in the difficult role of peacemaker and protector. He even develops a real attachment to his own attachment, Migi (voiced by Sadao Abe), who proves to be a loyal fighting companion.

Yamazaki’s objective is unsubtle heartstring-plucking, but Sometani, who proved adept at both comedy and action in the first film, plays the sequel’s more operatically preachy scenes with an all-out commitment that’s never embarrassingly overboard. Also, Asano, as the parasite warrior Goto, provides a chilling counter to the film’s “Why can’t we get along?” rhetoric, as does Arai as the serial killer — though he is hardly the first to play cold-blooded murder as a joke.

What is the film’s final take-away? Not one found in the usual Hollywood alien sci-fi, with its us-versus-them view of interplanetary interaction. Instead, the message is that humans and parasites are both living products of the same indifferent universe, facing many of the same survival problems, if not solving them the same way.

But when a parasite wants to turn you into dinner, the light of cross-species understanding will only penetrate so far. Better to have a right hand that’s smart, friendly — and deadly.