Do You Like Movies About Goblins?

When I first saw Hiruko the Goblin, I was delighted by how wild and outrageous it was.  This was long before anime became a major cultural touchstone in the states.  I mean, we had Speed Racer and Voltron in our Saturday morning TV runs, and Akira was a thing.  But these were exceptions.  I first read about it in Fangoria or Gorezone: how the creator of Tetsuo: The Iron Man was back with a full color tale of ancient mythical creatures that ran around with your head on little crab legs, and I was sold.  It was super hard to find in the days of VHS - I had to settle for a traded dub through the mail.  I couldn't believe this movie wasn't blowing up the cult horror market.
So when my brand new Mondo Macabro blu-ray arrived in the mail this week, I was more than a little worried how it would hold up.  I'm now intimately familiar with manga and many of their disappointing live-action adaptations.  I've gone through the novelty phase of X-rated cartoons like Urotsukidoji and and whatever else might've struck me as mind-blowing and over the top before we were saturated with the stuff.  At the time, I had no idea Hiruko was even based on a manga (Yokai Hunter), it felt like this bizarre inspiration that struck out of nowhere.  Could this hold any of that same power, or would I be kicking myself for buying the equivalent of the Netflix Death Note?
Well, no, it couldn't quite bring back the surprise of my original 1991 viewing.  And to be honest, I had revisited once before already, through Shriek Show's 2005 DVD (surprisingly under the Fangoria banner), though even that was over fifteen years ago.  But I'm happy to report, unfair expectations aside, it actually does hold up as a thoroughly entertaining little flick.  The silly humor, the gore, the imaginative story and even the special effects stand the test of time even better than I was hoping.  Hiruko is a truly great movie monster, and Shinya Tsukamoto's storytelling is fast-paced and masterful, with lush steady photography only occasionally broken up by his trademark frantic shakey-cam.  The acting isn't naturalistic, but it isn't trying to be; and it's better than I remembered.  It doesn't feel as boldly original anymore, but it's still better than most of the films that followed in its footsteps.
2005 Shriek Show DVD top; 2022 Mondo Macabro BD bottom.
Another surprise for me now: Shriek Show's DVD looks pretty good.  I've done so many comparisons where their editions were heavily interlaced, I was starting to assume they all were (at least their DVDs).  But not this bad boy.  Mondo's blu gives us a brand new 2k restoration of the original negative, and it looks brilliant, but Shriek Show's DVD still impresses, especially for SD.  The framing is pretty similar, though a little off... the back of their case claimed 1.85:1, but it's really a very slightly pillar-boxed 1.76:1.  Mondo's actually is 1.85, which essentially just means they matted it a little tighter (though there is a smidgen more on the right).  It also has stronger black levels, richer colors and a more naturally, filmic look with its higher def capture of grain, which is mostly strong, if a little inconsistent.

Both releases provide the original Japanese track with optional English subtitles, but it's in LPCM on the blu.
Shriek Show also had some decent, if brief, extras.  There's an interview with Tsukamoto where he lays out the story of how he came to make this film and all the basic info behind it.  There's also an interview with the effects artist, where he shows us some of the mechanical goblins he made.  And there's an additional clip of footage of the effects, which is nice but really didn't need to be a separate thing. The trailers also on here, as well as a couple bonus trailers.

Happily, Mondo has retained all of that, apart from the bonus trailers (though they've added plenty of their own).  They've also put together some new stuff, including an introduction and all new interview with Tsukamoto, which covers a little more ground and looks nicer in HD.  But as you can imagine, they repeat a lot of the same facts and anecdotes.  There's also an expert audio commentary by Tom Mes, which is slow moving but contains some good info, including more about the original manga, and how surprisingly faithful the story is to authentic Japanese legend, taking a lot out of The Kojiki, written in 712 AD.  Maybe some of that authenticity bleeding through is what keeps this film hopping in 2022.
I should point out, too, that my copy is the limited, numbered edition (mine is #1320 of 1500), which was sold out long before it started shipping.  But don't despair, the regular, retail edition is coming out this February, and it's the exact same disc.  The only difference is that the limited edition includes a full color 20-page booklet and comes in a red case.  So yes, I recommend this one even if this sort of thing isn't usually your bag.

No comments:

Post a Comment