Dir. Takashi Shimizu
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
DECLARATION: I’ve not visited any of the Manga HOMUNCULUS is based on and therefore this review is solely based on that of the film, not necessarily of the Manga series and plot depth that may contain. If you had read the series and can add more depth, do feel free to add your conversation in the comments.
Directed by Takashi Shimizu who gifted us the original THE GRUDGE series, HOMUNCULUS sees him take on a curse of another kind.
Susumu Nokoshi (Gô Ayano) lives a life or dormancy. Working in the high-rise offices of the city in the day and sleeping in his car at night. When he meets a medical school student, Manabu Ito (Ryô Narita), he comes across an opportunity to feel something his dormant life has currently no feeling toward. Inevitably, things are not quite as they seem and once Nokoshi undergoes the surgery, he awakens to the ability to see others as they really are, quite literally.
For a while, HOMUNCULUS plays on the question of what if you could bypass the false front of others and know exactly what others needed, while the visuals have a lot to be desired, it doesn’t take too long for the CGI to be absorbed and the audience become fully engaged with Nokishi’s sense of the world and a notion of some meaning being injected into a stilted hopeless life.
Plot wise, the film is pieced together with a “what-the-fuck-is-going-on” sense of play and this carries all the way through. Nothing is predictable and further to the film’s direction, as it steers in one direction, it pulls a handbrake turn and 180 degrees it. There’s always enough of the carrot to keep you engaged and it really does deserve it’s 18 rating for severity of gore.
Ayano carries the film and his restriction to commit to anything is both alienating and familiar, something that makes the unknown events more engaging for what unfolds before him, also becomes a new experience for the viewer. Accompanied by his quest to learn the responsibility he has gained with his new release turns into a real character drama but one that feels rushed through once the ball starts rolling.
With an aesthetic familiar to eastern cinema, when it gets brutal, the scenes featuring the operation are especially uneasy to watch and hark back to the graphic nature of SAW 3. It certainly ticks a few boxes for horror fans in that aspect but despite it's similarity to other cult classics and a director who has framed himself as one of Japan's cinematic Gods, HOMUNCULUS just falls short of anything great.
However, and it’s a big however, in a movie that battles with torture and self worth, a film that features a paedophilic rape with no retribution simply does not warrant existence. The scene makes sense at the time and to both characters involved there seems to be a plot string to be pulled but it happens and the film moves on. No repercussions, no downfall for the character, and no cause for why this would be a concern for any character, or viewer. There simply is no need for such a grotesque scene in a film in 2021 and justification of whether this is in the Manga is irrelevant. The film even indicates more sinister voyeurism and a wider arc that does not involve these characters but where I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and SUCKER PUNCH use trauma to drive the central character to desperate lengths, here it has no impact but to showcase a child rape scene for whoever wants to see it.
There could be a better film here with more depth, perhaps even a series to show his interaction with more people before the films boss battel conclusion however instead there are a few set pieces and a swift close that make this no better than a mediocre adaptation of a character who needs time to develop from zero-hero and beyond. Furthermore, the scene of rape really goes a step too far for cinema, certainly for Netflix.