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Henge (Metamorphosis)

April 26, 2012

Indie wonder challenges Tsukamoto, Cronenberg.

Metamorphosis (Henge) (2011)

First things first: Hajime Ohata’s Henge (Metamorphosis) is the most impressive Asian horror movie in decades! Hopefully soon a sensation, Henge is Tetsuo: The Iron Man and David Cronenberg’s body horror catalogue brought to the 2000’s. You’ll be hearing about this film again – a lot!

Yoshioki (Kazunari Aizawa) and Keiko (Aki Morita) are a normal, happily married couple. Something is not right, though: the husband suffers from frequent strokes and nightmarish visions. In his sleep “bugs” attempt to take over his body. Psychiatrists fight to cure his hallucinations, but with no success. The symptoms getting increasingly violent, it becomes unclear whether the cause is psychic at all.

Premiering at the 2011 Yubari International Fantastic Film festival as an “incomplete” anthology version, and then released in 2012 in its full 54 minute length, Henge is simply the most impressive work in its genre since small eternity. Had the film been in competition it would’ve been an almost certain main prize winner. Awards galore seems secured, though, as soon as European fantasy film festivals spot the film and add it to their line-up.

While destined for Tetsuo comparisons due to its production country, Henge is, in fact, a representative of the more melancholic end of the genre. Rather than a rocking industrial nightmare it is a Cronenbergian body horror with strong character focus serving as backbone. Special effects become almost secondary in the hands of the relatively inexperienced director Ohata, still fresh from the film school bench, who manages a seamless fusion of drama and horror.

As Yoshihiki’s disease takes ever more grotesque forms, the character emphasis is increased is equal amounts. Violence and special effects do not steal the show until at the very end. Hiroyuki Nagashima’s stunningly atmospheric soundtrack adds the final touch. Production values, while limited, are sufficient. The digital cinematography comes out almost comparable to traditional film, with none of the typical contrast and brightness disasters found in many recent Japanese small budget films.

Some small flaws do exist, though. Casting could’ve been improved in terms of one exorcist – the role calls for a booze reeking Richard Burton rather than a young woman – and CG blood should never have found its way to the screen. The latter is, thankfully, so sparsely used that it hardly hiders the film’s impact. Otherwise the Ohata relies on old school effects to the extent that less sophisticated audiences may fund the 80’s style make up circus slightly distracting. The lack of slime and grease leads to a slightly sterile appearance, though it’s hardly major shortcoming.

Henge is, despite its small flaws, a near masterful horror drama where strong character drama meets traditional make up effects horror. The film would, however, be best viewed without too much prior knowledge of it (some of its trailers and other promotional materials, as well as most likely film critics in the future, give away too much of the film). That being said, Ohata’s film is strong enough to deserve repeated viewings. The ending alone, while no doubt an opinion divider, is stunning enough to leave the audience in a need of medical treatment!

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