Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hiruko The Goblin

Hiruko The Goblin (1991) 88 Minutes. Shinya Tsukamoto, Director.

Based on two stories from the Demon Hunter manga series by Japanese author Daijiro Moroboshi, Hiroku tells the story of a goblin let loose through one of the Gates of Hell. As it begins terrorizing a school one summer, a small group of students and an archeology professor struggle to find a way to stop it.

The film starts with the disappearance of a high school teacher, Mr. Yabe, and one of his female students while exploring a cavern. The teacher's son, Masao, and his friends go looking for the missing girl, Reiko, who he is secretly in love with. He is later joined at the school by Hiedo, an archaeologist who is trying to prove that demons exist and is being spurned by his colleagues for his beliefs. Masao is clearly more important to the events going on than he realizes, because every time someone dies from an attack by one of the demons, an image of their face is burned into his back.

From the opening moments of this film, I was immediately struck by the realization that Hiruko the Goblin was not like the other Tsukamoto films I had seen. I've seen a handful of his films, and they have been universally dark and atmospheric. From the cyber-punk body horror of Tetsuo:The Iron Man, his first film, to the pent up grief and surrealism of Vital, I had come to expect certain things from a Shinya Tsukamoto movie. I was certain within the first six minutes of the film that I was not going to be getting that experience from this one. Instead of the dark, dramatic story that I usually get from his films, I found myself watching a light horror comedy with more than a few nods to other films contained in it.

Tsutsushi Umegaki's synthesizer score during the opening credits, which seems to be clearly inspired by low budget horror films of the 80's, gave me my first real clue as to what kind of film I was in for. Using that as a jumping off point, there were references to Evil Dead, Little Shop Of Horrors (1960), Alien, The Abyss, and The Thing among others. Tom Mes' excellent book "Iron Man:The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto" even shows a side by side comparison of shots from the ending scenes of Hiruko the Goblin and Metropolis! These things never feel like they are rip-offs, but more like nods toward those films. They aren't used as scenes being repeated from those film as much as they are ideas about effects and creature design being adapted for use in different ways. I'm sure that there are probably other references that I didn't catch on first viewing.

Japan's love of arterial spray is on full display here, from the windows being showered in blood during an off camera decapitation to the on camera attachment of a demon's body to a person's head. The empty school setting is used well, providing lots of long hallways to run (or bicycle a couple of times) down, kitchens to search and fight in, and stairways to stumble around. The heroes use a variety of weapons from shotguns to bug spray in their efforts to thwart the Hiruko demons.

The DVD that I have of this film is put out by Media Blasters apparently in association with Fangoria International. The film is shot on widescreen. It's got a few cool extras on it, including an interview with Shinya Tsukamoto, an interview with the special effects designer, a small feature on the goblin creation and design, a photo gallery, and a few trailers for other films from Shriek Show.

I can honestly say that while I don't think that this is my favorite Tsukamoto film, an honor that falls to either Snake of June or Vital (depending on my mood that day), I do think that this is the most fun I've had watching one of his films and I highly recommend it to my readers. It's certainly one that I will be watching again, and one that I think would be fun to watch with a group of people as well.

I decided to do a bit of research about this film after seeing it, and thought I'd share my findings. First of all, the name Hiruko comes from Japanese mythology. It was the name of the misshapen child of the brother and sister deities who gave birth to the islands that make up Japan. The story is recorded as far back as 712 A.D. The name translates as “leech child.”

Hiruko was Tsukamoto's second film, the first being Tetsuo:The Iron Man. When he was approached to do the project he wasn't interested in doing a manga adaptation, but was a fan of Moroboshi's work and accepted. While Tsukamoto wrote the screenplay and directed the film, he allowed others to handle the cinematography and editing of the film. This is an unusual move for him, but at the time, he was intimidated by working on a film for a studio, instead of doing his own independent work. To this day, he has only directed material that wasn't completely his creation twice, Hiruko the Goblin and Gemini.

While Tsukamoto doesn't claim to have negative memories of working on the film, the studio staff under him resented being forced to work seven days a week on the project, which was the style that Tsukamoto preferred to use. They also felt that he was too young and inexperienced a director. His biggest problem on the set was in dealing with a supporting actor, Hideo Murota, pictured below. Murota had an alcohol problem and would often show up on the set already drunk and carrying a bottle. Having starred in over a hundred films by that point, dating back to the yakuza films of the '60s and '70's, Murota disagreed about his part in the film and tried to force his opinions. He and Tsukamoto almost came to blows at one point during production and were separated by the cinematographer and one of the assistant directors.

The film also represents what Tsukamoto states is the only time that he has ever made a compromise regarding one of his films. He feels that the ending of the film is not what he would have wanted and that he had to settle for something less because the production ran out of money. The film had a budget of approximately $2 million, and when it ran out of funds near the end of production, the crew continued to work on it without pay to insure its completion.

It turns out that this film was a massive failure upon its release. (I didn't discover it until years later.) The studio, Sedic International, spent a lot of money on TV spots and ads for the film, but Tsukamoto felt that the posters were worthless. He was not involved in any of the promotion of the film, and looks back on it as a mistake. Tsukamoto has had a hand in every aspect of his films from that point on, from preproduction to marketing.

My information on the history of the film comes from interviews with Shinya Tsukamoto and from Tom Mes' superb book “Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto,” which I highly recommend to his fans. It is released by FabPress, and can be found here: or at .

Comments are welcome, of course! =)


  1. I haven't seen this one yet, but I was amazed by Tetsuo the first time I watched it. It's odd that the making of them were so different from each other. Can't wait to see it now that you've told all the history about its making.

  2. You review and those stills make me want to bump it up on my queue, but I'm wondering where is the best place to start with Tsukamoto. As far as I know, I don't think I've seen any of his films yet.