Production Company: Kadokawa Shoten, Fuji Television
Release: 1 February 1997
Format: 35 mm
Director: Ochiai Masayuki
Producers: Murakami Koichi, Kawai Takio
Screenplay: Kimizuka Ryoichi
Original story: Sena Hideaki
Photography: Shinozaki Kozo
Music: Hisaishi Jo
Nagashima Toshiaki: Mikami Hiroshi
Nagashima Kiyomi: Hazuki Riona
Asakura Sachiko: Nakajima Tomoko
Dr. Yoshizumi: Bessho Tetsuya
Ono Tatsuro: Inagaki Goro
Anzai Mariko: Omura Ayako
Ishihara Mutsuo: Mitani Noboru
Kataoka Shigeru: Kawarasaki Kenzo
Shimizu Manabu: Watanabe Ikkei
Ochiai’s ‘Parasite’ Feeds on Television Cliches
Without fail, it was a trick that would appear in all the old Frankenstein horror flicks: Baron von Frankenstein would tower over the monster in his lab, scream out “He’s alive!” and at that moment, thunder would crash and lightning flash. The thunder emphasis became such a cliche that Mel Brooks and Count Floyd on SCTV parodied it, and now no one in their right mind would use it seriously.
Except on Japanese television.
In that world of hammed excess, where flashy but cheap visuals have to make up for bad scriptwriting and plots are so reduced to convention that only absurdity breeds interest in the narrative, it seems that dialogue is often accompanied by lightning.
Maybe that’s the only way they can get numbed viewers to look up from their dinner.
By contrast, the dominant style in contemporary Japanese cinema is still subtle understatement–that is, until Parasite Eve came along.
It;s the first film I’ve seen in a long time that dares to have a character mutter in time with claps of thunder–in a variation of the old Baron–“She’s still alive!” without expecting the audience to burst out in laughter.
The Frankenstein analogy is appropriate, because Parasite Eve, based on Sena Hideaki’s best-selling horror/science fiction novel, does feature an experiment with life that has gone wrong.
Nagashima Toshiaki (Mikami Hiroshi) is a biologist performing experiments on mitochondria, the human cellular organelles that, due to a different DNA structure, are like parasites that have entered into a symbiotic relationship with our bodies.
When Kiyomi (Hazuki Riona), his wife of only a year, dies in gruesome car accident, Toshiaki in a grief-filled delusion decides to make a culture out her mitochondria in an effort to keep “her” alive.
But to his surprise, the culture multiplies exponentially, turning into a computer-graphics-assisted golden goo that first possesses his assistant Sachiko (Nakajima Tomoko) and then metamorphizes into the seductive figure of his departed wife.
Through Sachiko, the mitochondria announces to the shocked world that they have waited 1.4 billion years for this opportunity to live on their own. With the sperm they have collected from Toshiaki (who had sex with the mitochondrion Kiyomi) and the womb of a girl who received a transplant from Kiyomi, they will create a new species in the evolutionary chain that will wipe out the human race.
Pretty frightening stuff, but first-time director Ochiai Masayuki doesn’t seem to trust his material enough to let it evoke the terror by itself. He has to hammer it into our heads with every tool in his workshop.
A dark, brooding atmosphere permeates every scene and Ochiai bombards us with excessive close-ups, overly persistent editing, and, yes, that lightning.
Ochiai and his staff are certainly professionals and all of their tricks are pulled of with a level of skill. But point is made a dozen times, as if we viewers are too stupid to figure it out the first time around.
The film is mildly enjoyable at times, mostly due to the novel’s engrossing story, but being unable to trust the complexity of the original, Parasite Eve white-washes Sena’s ironic and pessimistic ending into a love-conquers-all tearjerker that strains credulity.
Creativity is lacking and all of it seems too much like an overblown TV drama. Both Ochiai and screenwriter Ryoichi Kimizuka are veterans of the small screen, as well as are most of the staff, including the computer graphics/special effects crew.
The film was produced by Fuji Television along with Kadokawa Shoten, the publisher of the novel.
Sadly, Parasite Eve, despite being one of the most eagerly awaited Japanese movies in a while, really looks like it would be more at home on where it will eventually end up: television.
I don’t want to thumb my nose at TV on behalf of the art of cinema. Despite being seen as enemies, Japanese film and television have a long, almost symbiotic relationship, exchanging talented performers and staff and even money. In recent years, stations like TV Tokyo or WOWOW have provided vital support that has bolstered many independent film directors.
Unlike these stations, which leave the filmmaking to experienced movie hands, Fuji has invaded the film world as of late to produce TV drama clones like Hero Interview using only its own staff. Backed by the muscle of a media giant, the films succeed, but one wonders what has happened to cinema as a result.
Unable to have confidence in the power of the novel or the subtleties of cinema, Parasite Eve is a Frankenstein experiment gone awry–an example of the monster that can be created when a parasite TV company tries to fool around with the life of the movies.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 6 February 1997, p. 8.
Copyright 1997: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow