Friday, 7 September 2012

Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack! (2012)

A quick glance at the cover art and title of this seventy minute Japanese OVA (which finds a welcome UK DVD release courtesy of the Terracotta label’s TERROR COTTA imprint) might lead one to expect this film to be the anime equivalent of all those silly Asylum flicks such as Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus: a big dumb action/monster movie in manga form, with little of substance about it to hold the attention for long.

How wrong could one be? The only difficulty with attempting to dispel such an impression is that it might involve giving away too much of the deranged insanity that finds its way to the screen during the course of this increasingly bewildering tour of outlandish horrors from the mad mind of horror manga-meister Junji Ito.

That name will already be familiar to some, and if I mention a few of his other peculiar creations, such as Tomie or Uzumaki for instance, even non-manga fans will probably be starting to form a picture of the kind of thing they might expect from this straight-to-video anime spectacular, even if their previous knowledge comes only from familiarity with the live action film adaptations of these works which, although weird, were as nothing compared to the surrealistic but dense allegorical nature of the tales of mutation and bodily transformation which continue to be Ito’s stock in trade.
This adaptation of Ito’s ten-year-old manga “Gyo” has been directed and written (with Akihiro Yoshida) by Takayuki Hirao, himself no stranger to the weird side, having previously been entrusted to direct the first episode of Satashi Kon’s magnificently offbeat anime series Paranoia Agent after first learning his craft under the Paprika director’s assured guidance. Naturally, condensing a two-volume manga down to a seventy minute film results in a great deal of the substance and subtext from Ito’s original tale being simplified or lost, and Hirao’s version does indeed play more like a fast-moving action movie in some respects, with those in-depth and more perverse beats common to Ito’s manga characterisations finding themselves muted or abandoned altogether here. In actuality though, this oddball spectacle of nightmarish freakery still does some interesting things with the original protagonists: switching the gender of the principle lead and making the lead character of the manga merely a subsidiary presence here, who, in this alternate rendering, actually meets one of the most grotesque fates out of anyone in the film (although it’s a tough call, admittedly)! This subversion of the original manga’s focus might be lost on those of us coming new to the tale, but Hirao’s adaptation doesn’t lose the core essentials from the frankly bizarre set of ideas that motivate another feverish outpouring of insanity from Junji Ito’s brain.

The film takes the approach of starting quietly and then building up the intensity and the weirdness until the narrative reaches a surreal apocalyptic crescendo of madness at the end. It begins with three young female grad students taking a vacation in a summer house on the island of Okinawa when they notice a peculiar smell, like that of human corpses (the death stench) which seems to be permeating their surroundings like a foggy miasma. Then they discover a bizarre walking fish, scuttling about inside the house on what appears to be a metallic supporting ‘spider body’ framework. Hirao and Yoshida spend some time establishing this trio of anime female stereotypes as their lead characters (Kaori, the nice girl-next-door; Erika, the boy-hungry ‘slut’; Aki the chubby depressive) and then parallel the compete (and I mean complete) breakdown of their friendship with the coming of the end of the world, when the entire fishy contents of the pacific ocean suddenly emerges onto dry land in a biological tidal wave of devastation -- first on the Okinawa island chain, then the rest of Japan, and finally the entire world.

Seeing on television the disaster which appears to be consuming Tokyo, where her boyfriend Tadushi is still trapped, Kaori leaves her friends and embarks on a desperate journey in order to be with him, which involves her and a young photojournalist called Shirahawa (who she meets on the flight back), in first, an emergency aeroplane crash-landing, and then a monorail derailment during the course of their efforts to reach the capital.

This slightly offbeat iteration of a disaster movie scenario constitutes only the beginning of events though: back on Okinawa, Erika -- having indulged herself in a threesome with two local ‘horn dogs’ (there are times when the sexual content pushes this towards Hentai territory, although in the end the sex is used merely as a first act taster for the general atmosphere of derangement that’s soon to come) -- discovers she is breaking out in spots and emitting a horrid stench, much like the walking fish themselves, after an earlier run-in with a giant shark resulted in a foot injury (and the loss of most of her clothes). It turns out that these creatures of the sea are carrying a virus which turns their victims into bloated bags of death stench gas.

Even this is only the starter for the true madness to come, though, of which I should really say no more. All I will mention is that Ito’s main concept involves an utterly delirious cocktail of biological mutation, biomechanical invention & experimentation, and supernatural agency, which results in imagery that is grotesque, outrageous and utterly original. In the short text-based interview which appears on the TERROR COTTA disc, Ito says he’s a fan of the Beatles and writes his horror mangas while listening to their music. There’s something of the psychedelic fantasy landscape of the group’s 1968 animated film “Yellow Submarine” discernible in the colourful circus imagery which appears towards the end of this film, but the scatologically inclined direction things take here probably wouldn’t have appealed to the fab four’s sensibilities!

Hirao pushes the macabre levels to the max in imagery which embodies the original manga’s concern with sexual disgust and fear of bodily contact. The quality of the animation itself is often slightly cruder than is technically possible these days. But when it comes to realising the monstrosities and bizarre concepts that lie at the root of Junji Ito’s vision, this OVA adaption is second to none.    

 Company: Terra Cotta/Format: DVD/Region: 2 PAL/
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/Original Release Date: 2012/Genre: Anime
Director: Takayuki Horao