Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Hiruko The Goblin

This is not your typical Shin’ya Tsukamoto film. If you’ve seen the two Tetsuo films, don’t expect something as intense or insane as that. Hiruko The Goblin is lighter fair. It is not a very good film, but it is decidedly entertaining and visually creative.

Hiroku The Goblin came out in 1991 and is based on a manga by Daijiro Morohoshi called Yôkai Hantâ, which translates to Yokai Hunter. I am unfamiliar with the manga but the film hovers between humor and horror.

Hiruko The Goblin openly steals from many previous horror films. Sam Raimi would recognize the liberal use of his zooming shaky cam. John Carpenter might have a few things to say about the body horror. The constant running in fear while screaming and tripping feels very Scooby-Doo. The premise of the film is an oldie but … an oldie. A high school is built on top of a sacred burial ground and the underground tomb is leaking evil. The basis for many films but Hiruk0’s version feels very Buffy.

The title of the film is Hiruko The Goblin, but in the film, they refer to the evil creature as a yokai which is a much richer and more interesting figure than a simple goblin. Before the Axial Age and the sweep of the Abrahamic religions, most cultures were animistic. They believed that everything had a “soul” or a “spirit.” Japan is one of the very few countries to retain this belief system in the modern age. The Shinto religion includes a whole host of ghosts, demons, monsters, witches, and a group of magical mischief-makers called yokai. If ever there was a rabbit hole that you could fall down and never be seen again it would be the world of yokai. Some are extremely dangerous some are sweet and helpful, but most are just petty mischief-makers. There is a yokai whose sole purpose in life is to move your pillow from under your head to under your feet while you are sleeping.

There are books cataloging the yokai that go back centuries. They are the ancient Japanese version of The Monster Manual. The creature in Hiruko The Goblin is not in the classical pantheon, but it needn’t be. The taxonomy of yokai is very loose. Anything can be a yokai. There is a legend that any unwanted or neglected item will eventually turn into a yokai. There is a one-eyed umbrella yokai that will lick you when you’re not looking.

The Hiruko is not so cute. It decapitates people and then puts hairy spider legs on their heads so they can scurry around and attack people. The heads are pretty wonderful. They are blue with bloodshot eyes and very fast. The monsters and effects are all quite captivating, it’s the plot and the character development that is weak. There is a jumbled and confusing back story that ties certain people together but it just reads as dead time while you wait for the next action scene. In addition, there is the relentless use of the reaction shot. Midway through the film, you begin to get impatient with the repeated shots of bugged out eyes and open mouths.

Hiruko, The Goblin is not a scary film but it is engaging. It can be difficult to find but it’s worth the search. If you liked Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House you will most likely enjoy this.

This article includes a lot of film stills. If you would like to see the illustrated version click here.

I have an MFA in painting and I’m an art professor but I managed to convince the school to let me teach film. https://twitter.com/Filmofile1

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