Fantasizing about instantly acquiring superpowers is something you do as a kid — or when you’re late for an appointment and imagine flying to it like Superman. But what if your power-up comes when you’re creaky in the joints and counting the days to retirement?
That’s the premise of “Inuyashiki,” Shinsuke Sato’s turbo-charged, over-hyped screen adaptation of Hiroya Oku’s hit comic. A mysterious white light transforms middle-aged salaryman Ichiro Inuyashiki (Noritake Kinashi) into a cyborg with incredible powers, including the ability to swing through the urban landscape like SpiderMan, high above his fellow corporate drones.
The same thing happens at the same time and place to Hiro Shishigami (Takeru Satoh), a cold-eyed teenager who looks like he has just escaped a fashion shoot. Deciding he is no longer human, and thus no longer subject to human laws and morality, Shishigami devolves into a killer who terrorizes the nation. Meanwhile, meek and mild Inuyashiki slowly morphs from wishy-washy peacemaker to reluctant hero, saving people from Shishigami’s wrath. Inevitably, the two cyborgs clash.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||127 mins|
This story of ordinary people changing into super beings against their wills — for good or evil, or both — recalls Takashi Yamazaki’s 2014-15 sci-fi/fantasy duology “Parasyte,” which was also adapted from a best-selling manga. Even the characters’ digital transformations from human to cyborg form look similar, as though the “Inuyashiki” and “Parasyte” effects teams used the same character design boards. But the former team, to give it credit, is at the top of the local visual effects game.
The scenes of familial strife, with the wimpy Inuyashiki getting no respect from his nagging wife, bullied teenage son and sneering teenage daughter, also have local antecedents that go back decades. The beleaguered middle-aged male who is little more than an ATM to his ungrateful family is such a staple of everything from magazine trend pieces to pop culture phenomena that it feels as though scriptwriter Hiroshi Hashimoto ticked off a list of cliches.
But just when we think Inuyashiki might take a stand and consign his snotty daughter and her pals to the tender mercies of Shishigami, our hero defends them selflessly, if pathetically. Yes, another cliche.
Sato, whose zombie-holocaust thriller “I Am a Hero” (2016) was as close as the local industry comes to the more violent Hollywood effects extravaganzas, does not let the family melodrama sink the action in a sea of bathos, however. Instead he stages clashes between his two antagonists that test them beyond the limits of their flesh-and-blood humanity, while revving up the visual pyrotechnics. These scenes sail over the top in a satisfying, adrenaline-spiked way. Red Bull for the eyes and synapses.
Satoh, who played the title samurai-assassin-turned-justice-warrior in the hit “Rurouni Kenshin” films (2012-14), is chilling as Shishigami, with ice in his soul as well as his veins. But Kinashi, a member of the “Tunnels” comedy duo, overdoes Inuyashiki’s weak-kneed, weak-willed side to the point I was mentally shouting “Man up!” at the screen. Of course, this mouse does find his roar, even if it’s almost too late in the game.
The schoolboy and the salaryman will battle on in two sequels, both already set for future release. But how will writers top the titanic life-or-death struggles of this first installment? Perhaps the way Hollywood would: Cyborgs in space.