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Henge – Review

by Olivia Saperstein

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Set in a quiet Japanese town, Keiko is at a loss when her husband starts to have terrible seizures, and slowly transforms into a flesh-hungry beast. Worried of what Yoshiaki is capable of, scientist Minoru Sakashita kidnaps him with the intention of testing.

Indie writer/director Ohata throws back to old beastly narratives of Ishiro Honda’s 1954 Godzilla, where an enormous reptile devours Tokyo, and this is fun, yet he makes it more intimate. In it we also find classic horror flavors of The Wolf Man (1941), where a man turns into a werewolf against his will. Yoshiaki apparently hears voices from insects, however, and seems to grow tentacles himself, which is why the first thing you may think of is Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), in which a scientist’s failed experiment leads him to turn into the insect.

If anything though, this is a story of true love, and a woman’s unflinching dedication to her husband. A simple story, perfect for the simple surroundings that Ohata has created. He uses warm lighting with lots of beige, which keeps our focus on the acting. He doesn’t complicate the plot, or give us any real insight whatsoever as to what the cause of this metamorphosis could be, save for some ancient mumblings in which Yoshiaki claims to be “the representative of the thoughts of all living things, except humans.” Minoru says,  “In other words he was the representative of the whole world.” Cop out? Maybe, but it works when contrasted with characters living a quiet and humble life, and want nothing but to be happy together.

Despite the film’s low budget and campy plot, the special effects could be a lot better. For instance, when Yoshiaki is attacking his victims the blood we see splattered about is clearly computerized. This immediately takes us out of the moment, whereas using actual fake blood would have had a much stronger effect, making us more queasy if not stirring laughter. I always find real effects to be much stronger than virtual, unless they are incredibly realistic. In this case, the effect could have been a lot creepier. Older horror films didn’t utilize excessive gore, but without much real blood in the picture it felt as though something were missing. However, a shot in which Keiko walks into the bedroom and finds a slew of dismembered limbs on the floor was a highlight.

The acting, however, made up for this, as it was better than that which we find in many high-budget films today. I really believed that Keiko was worried about her husband, and Aizawa’s depictions of seizures were truly gruesome—I felt his pain. Both actors have small resumes, Aizawa having appeared in Kitano’s Dolls (2002), and I would like to see them in future projects.

It’s no surprise that the film was distributed by Japanese record label King Records, for the music was pretty exceptional. Part heartbeat and part electro-ambient, the constant backtrack held me there, and peeled back layers slowly, as if aiding Yokiashi’s transformation. Composer Hiroyuki Nagashima (known for Memories, Pinocchio), must be credited for this, as the experienced artist is responsible for perhaps the strongest element in the film.

Henge is an appreciation of mega-monster films, like Gamera (1965), the giant flying turtle, Tremors (1990), or even King Kong (1933). Whereas today we are flocked with films about beautiful girls falling for equally handsome vampires, distressed at their passion toward the immortal, in Henge we have a wife who is equally attracted to the horrific fuzzy and googly-eyed version of her husband as she would be the handsome one. The film, rather than being about the monster himself, hinges on loyalty; handing the power to the wife. Rather than seeing woman taken up into the arms of a giant barbarian, Yoshiaki is dependent on Keiko for his very life.

If you’d like to witness a new spin on an old narrative for Halloween, go ahead and invest an hour in Henge. While it’s truly mawkish and a bit absurdist, it may just resurrect some strange nostalgia.

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Author: Olivia Saperstein

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