The first Parasyte movie (first of 2) premiered last week and I went in hoping that I would be wrong. Long story short: I wasn't.
I've said it before that the original Parasyte manga is one of my all-time favorites. Author Hitoshi Iwaaki's masterpiece quite literally helped define me as a person and I am quite aware that I carry a lot of baggage when it comes to talking about it. While the trailers did little to persuade me that it would be good, I did my best to remain optimistic about the 2-part movie adaptation, hoping against hope that it would surprise me and wouldn't be another case of live-action atrocity in motion.
In the end, I left the theater wanting my hour and 50 minutes back.
The original story of Parasyte was 10 books long. The first movie attempts to cover roughly the first half, from the main character, Shinichi Izumi's encounter with the parasites to the defeat of his first major rival, Hideo Shimada. Anyone familiar with the original story will know that that's a substantial amount of plot events to fit into less than 2 hours of screen time.
The result is that much of the initial plot is very, VERY rushed. Things happen, and before you have time to really take it in and digest it, we've already moved on to the next. The movie is driven by its plot, mainly because the characters – and consequently, the audience – don't have time to react and process their emotions. The result it a pulpy mess where you end up not really caring about any of the characters at all.
Obviously, as a film adaptation, certain things needed to be changed. However, while the changes may work for convenience's sake, they rob the story of much of its core meaning.
For example, Shinichi's father is absent from the movie. According to character dialogue, he died long ago, leaving Shinichi to be raised be his mother. While this saves the movie from having to deal with having to fit in another character and can be used as a plot point to strengthen the emotional ties between Shinichi and his mother, it creates a void in the plot that ends up creating other logistic problems. When certain events unfold, we're left with a situation which makes little sense without a parental figure and that the movie hastily tries to gloss over.
"Show, don't tell" is one of the basic rules of storytelling that the movie simply does not get. One of Shinichi's most emotional character moments is when he recalls a time during his childhood when his mother saves him from being burned by hot oil, but is permanently burned on her right hand as a result. This is essentially what defines Shinichi's relationship with his mother. Rather than take this event and show it to the viewer, the Parasyte movie instead steamrolls over it by having Shinichi verbally relay the story to Migi thereby removing any emotional investment with the characters' history.
On the other side of the spectrum, at one point, Shinichi calls Migi the Devil. Rather than simply have Migi retort that he has already studied the Devil – as by this point in the movie we have already seen Migi pouring over books and surfing the internet and know him to be quite knowledgeable – the movie practically screeches to a halt to have Migi go over to the computer and literally do a web search for "the Devil" and read the Wikipedia page before making his response.
One characteristic of the parasites is that they are able to sense each other's presence. While this ability comes up multiple times throughout the movie, it is extremely inconsistent. How far away the parasites can detect each other pretty much depends on what the script calls for to where at points I was confused if the ability was universal or if they parasites could turn it on and off like a convenient switch.
There were other inconsistencies, but I can't really go into detail without spoiling major plot points. Needless to say, they took me out of the movie at points where I should have been drawn in.
I have no idea why this movie was so scared of internal character monologues. I know it's apparently a cop-out to use overdubbed dialogue to explain things in movies, but if you're going to undertake such an impossible task as to make a film adaptation of Parasyte, well, you might as well cheat.
Multiple times during the movie, there were scenes where an event would unfold and a lone character would just stand there... And that would be it. I know it would probably be less realistic to have them randomly talking to themselves, but the stony silence certainly didn't do anything to help explain anything. The only reason I could have known what any of the characters were thinking was because I already knew what they were thinking from having read the source material.
Thanks to the above 2 points, the first half of the movie is quite confusing for anyone who isn't familiar with the source material and abysmal for anyone who is. That said, by the second half the movie began to warm up to me. After stumbling over its own feet in establishing the characters, the movie seemed to get the hang of things and towards the end, I think I actually felt a twinge of positive emotion – though it may just have been Stockholm Syndrome in effect.
By the end, with the dramatic climax, my emotional migraine had subsided. Yes, the movie is a hollowed-out shell of what it could have been, but casting that aside, the action was fun, the CG meshed with the world enough not to be too distracting, and I was able to relax a little. That said, I wouldn't be in any hurry to go through the first half again just to get to the ending drama.
Part 1 of the Parasyte movie is essentially "Parasyte for dummies." If that. It's the abridged, muted, and emotionally empty shell of what it could have been. The creative changes rob the story of its substance and while it may be cool to see bladed tentacle-headed creatures duke it out, it's really not worth the mincemeat that is the plot. I cannot even suggest it to people who have never been exposed to the story and are curious. Parasyte is currently available as a manga, an anime, and a movie (and probably a novel). I can recommend the manga and anime.
The first Parasyte movie was released in Japanese theaters on November 27th. Part 2 is scheduled for release in Japan on April 25th. There is currently no word on a Western release.
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To contact the author of this post, write to cogitoergonihilATgmail.com or find him on Twitter @tnakamura8.