J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Fantasia ’18: Ajin Demi-Human

Think of them as a race of Logans, but more demonic. They could be cousins to the Tokyo Ghouls, but they are pretty much invincible. You might think Kei Nagai would be delighted to learn he happens to be one, but instead it leads to nothing but trouble in Katsuyuki Motohiro’s Ajin: Demi-Human (trailer here) screened during the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival.

The discovery of the Ajin is relatively recent, but it has the Japanese government spooked. They look like ordinary humans, but they have superhuman regenerative powers. They cannot be killed—they just “reset.” Nagai learned of his Ajin status when he was hit by a bus and popped back up. Ever since, he has been poked, prodded, sliced & diced, and constantly reset by the government research team led by the emotionless Yu Tosaki. The good news is Sato and Tanaka, two Ajin liberation terrorists are about to break him out of the lab. The bad news is their lust for vengeance and genocidal terror is more than he can stomach.

Suddenly, Nagai is on the run from both the government and Sato. His only allies are his ailing sister Eriko and a kindly old lady living on the outskirts of the forest, who adopts them both as surrogate grand-children.

Frankly, the parallels between Motohiro’s Ajin and Kentaro Hagiwara’s Tokyo Ghoul, two live action manga-anime adaptations, is quite striking, but there is more action and better visual effects in Ajin. In fact, the fight scenes rather cleverly incorporate the Ajin powers, making them quite distinctive. If you are hit in the arm with a tranquilizer gin, just hack it off. Stuck in a disadvantageous position? Try a strategic reset.

Takeru Satoh is a bit aloof as Nagai, but his has the necessary steeliness and action chops to be convincing in the super-powered melees. Gô Ayano is flamboyantly sinister as Sato and Tetsuji Tamayama makes an even more loathsome jerkheel as Tosaki. However, former AKB48 Team A member Rina Kawaei steals scene after scene and fight after fight, as the formidable Izumi Shimomura.

Frankly, the X-File­-style government conspiracies and cover-ups are tired clichés at this point, but action director Takahito Ouchi manages to keep upping the ante with each big, ultra-cinematic set piece. This is not a subtle film and it sure isn’t boring. Recommended for viewers in the mood for some supernaturally super-charged action, Ajin: Demi-Human had its Canadian premiere at this year’s Fantasia.

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