JAPAN CUTS: Hiruko the Goblin (妖怪ハンター ヒルコ) Review

Hiruko the Goblin

There is something strangely beautiful about watching a Japanese horror flick. J-horror always seems to flow like cherry blossoms in the wind while the creatures stem from the depths of our most feverish nightmares. It’s like an eclectic mix of beauty and beast. However, it’s not for everyone, and it’s not because of the lack of cultural context. Some of the best J-horror films like Ju-on: The Grudge and Audition can be enjoyed by all cultures. What I’m talking about is the weirdness that sometimes occurs in a J-horror movie. With Hiruko the Goblin, it can get VERY weird. 

Then again, it could’ve gotten even weirder if director Shinya Tsukamoto didn’t tone down his style for Hiruko. Tsukamoto’s first film, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, was a shocking body-horror flick that featured numerous grotesque displays of metallic atrocities. As Tsukamoto said, “if Tetsuo is my first-born son, then Hiruko is my first daughter. She is more polite and was born with the wish to be loved by others.” Still, Hiruko the Goblin has plenty of body-horror creations to go around. After all, the eventual destruction of the body is one of the thematic constants in all of Tsukamoto’s work.

Much like TetsuoHiruko includes many dated and old-school stop-motion creature animations. It’s safe to say that Hiruko takes a lot of inspiration from the creature animation of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II. Sure, the effects look terrible, but it does fit the campy tone of the film perfectly. Also, don’t forget the copious amount of fake blood and decapitated heads that dominate these campy horror movies. Despite several nods to these films, the movie is still a visually unique Japanese horror experience.

Hiruko the Goblin has plenty of body-horror creations to go around. After all, the eventual destruction of the body is one of the thematic constants in all of Tsukamoto’s work.

However, as far as horror movies go, it’s pretty straightforward. Hiruko the Goblin follows Hieda (Kenji Sawada), a disgraced archaeologist due to his wild theories about the supernatural. When he receives a letter from his brother-in-law, Hieda travels to a town searching for the evidence he needs to prove his theory. Eventually, Hieda runs into Masao (Masaki Kudou), his nephew-in-law. Hieda and Masao must team up and trap the demon, Hiruko, once and for all. 

As bland as the story is, the movie does offer quite a bit of comedy to offset the horror. Scenes between Kenji Sawada and Masaki Kudou are hilarious at times as the two men stumble all over the place trying to fight the titular villain. Unfortunately, these slapstick moments are the only real highlights of Sawada and Kudou’s performance. Both of their performances are as stale as the story itself. It’s all generic.

Overall, Hiruko the Goblin is a fun, campy horror flick from a director not known for his lighter side. Unfortunately, the movie is not as unforgettable as some of the other Japanese horror classics of the 90s. Despite Hiruko‘s lighter tone, Shinya Tsukamoto is still is able to maintain his weirdness but not his distinctiveness.

Rating: 3/5 atoms

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