Review Homunculus (2021): Lost potential
From director Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On, a.k.a. The Grudge) and based on the manga series “Homunculus” by Hideo Yamamoto (Ichi the Killer manga series), comes the live-action version of the same name.
Homunculus (2021) shows Shimizu’s mastery in horror and thriller, accompanied with incredible creativity, but with a few narrative and character development shortcomings.
Amnesia and an invitation he couldn’t resist
Homeless and wearing an expensive suit, Susumu Nokoshi (Go Ayano) doesn’t remember his past and feels no emotions. While sleeping on his mini-car, Nokoshi receives an invitation to participate in an experiment by drilling a small hole on his skull to see the Homunculus. After accepting this odd offer, Nokoshi discovers more about the Homunculus, its connection to seeing the trauma of others, and his past.
The idea of this psychological thriller is a creative one. Looking at losing memories and being able to see the trauma of other people by opening your third eye by drilling a hole in the skull, is an interesting idea to combine with the Homunculus (16th-century alchemy belief). However, executing this combination it’s a little messy.
First, there are inconsistencies in the ‘’powers’’ that Nokoshi obtains by drilling a hole in his skull and the way he gains these powers. People without emotions see the Homunculus, but later, when the protagonist discovers more about his past, the Homunculus re-emerges (despite Nokoshi being extremely emotional at that time). Unexpected actions from Nokoshi follow which will engrave the image into your memory, because of the violence and the superb acting of Go Ayano.
Part of the magic of Homunculus is the powerful acting of Go Ayano. He makes every scene count. Playing a medical school student, Ryo Narita delivers a credible and fitting performance as a desperate person looking to heal his past too.
Despite all, the backstory is there, but when executed, more questions arise than answers. There is much information that the viewer must absorb in a moment. This makes it challenging to follow.
Second, by the end of the film, Ito tries to play mind games with Nokoshi, but this backfires as Nokoshi knows, at this point, more about the Homunculus than Ito. Trying to give a twist to the story of selecting Nokoshi and the Homunculus fails to back up the story of Ito and why and how he selected Nokoshi.
Approaching the end, Ito’s beliefs crumble, but this action does not suit the believes that Ito had at the beginning of the film. And no, it’s not a change of beliefs but more a regression, which wouldn’t make sense in this context, because Ito is the one who believes in the Homunculus and knows more about it than anyone else.
Aside from the narrative, the mise-en-scene makes the setting believable and narrows the space, especially at Ito’s place. Due to this restriction of space, the mental challenges that Nokoshi faces become fiercer. An aspect that does not miss in this film is intensity, as the violence is not gruesome, but it gives you shivers down your spine.
Prop women and a little rant
Another major issue that is disturbing in a present-day film is how the protagonist treats women and how these women appear on the screen. Women in Homunculus become a tool and have no agency at all. He decides what to do and they follow.
Even when a young lady is raped, her agency of screaming for help disappears. This fantasy rape scene is not okay in the way it is presented, as there is no allusion to the girl being interested nor wanting that while she screams for help.
By presenting such a violent scene, without showing the repercussions or the after-effects, romanticizes such action. In part, this comes because of the sense of ‘’helping’’ the girl, as according to the narrative, her trauma/fear would vanish after this action. However, my point here is that vanishing her trauma doesn’t take away that Nokoshi forcefully penetrated her without her consent (and, most certainly, caused another trauma).
Finally, Homunculus’ narrative drives the viewer to complete the watch and leaves them with more questions. It’s a thriller with romance, violence and mystical creatures that tries to reflect on the desires and traumas of people, but while doing so, it loses the thread that guides the main story.
Cool and also disturbing memorable scenes touch on bigger societal issues that vanish in-between the protagonist’s struggle. Worth watching because of the creativity, but not if you’re looking for a profound psychosocial thriller, or do not tolerate old-fashioned thinking related to women.
First appeared on Surrounded by Films (24 May 2021).