Known for its graphic violence and overt sexuality, Go Nagai’s Devilman has been a cult icon in Japan for over 20 years. After numerous false starts and production problems, the demonic superhero finally found his way to theaters in a heavily-hyped, big-budget adaptation of the celebrated manga. But this isn’t the first incarnation: Devilman also prospered as an anime on the small screen.
Maybe he should have stayed there.
The story follows Akira – your typical high school student with Peter Parker-esque problems. One afternoon, from out of the blue, his best friend Ryo hands him a VR helmet (!) containing an emergency video transmission from his father in Antarctica.
Turns out, Akira Sr. accidentally unleashed a horde of demons while working on a scientific project, and everyone in the facility got possessed. Akira and Ryo drive to Antarctica (!!), where Ryo unveils himself to be an angel. Suddenly, a giant demon sperm possesses Akira (!!!), turning him into a large computer image (aka Devilman). Vowing to defend mankind, our horned hero embarks on a “journey of the self” while laying waste to numerous demons that threaten the world. Then the apocalypse happens. Or something.
What the hell is going on here? Devilman tries hard to tell a complex and epic story, but the whole thing moves along with the grace of a train pile-up. Taking a lesson from the “Uwe Boll Institute of Film Structure™,” the narrative jumps around without rhyme or reason and can’t even properly explain who the characters are, let alone what’s happening around them.
The first hour is actually good for a few unintentional laughs. We get a truckload of goofy monsters, plenty of gore, and hysterical dialogue like:
– “I’m Satan, right?”
– “You devoured my friend! I’ll show you!”
– “War has begun. Isn’t this fun, everybody?”
Sadly, the “fun” stops at the halfway mark when the filmmakers attempt to grow a brain. A new plotline (one of at least twenty) is introduced, depicting the rise of fascism and the persecution of hell spawn. Using heavy-handed allusions to The Red Scare, demons and “demon sympathizers” (*snicker*) are rounded up and executed by the government. Before long, innocents are targeted as nations wage war and society collapses under its own paranoia. That’s right, folks, Devilman is a movie with something to say! To be fair, this could’ve made for an interesting concept, but the end product is amazingly dull. Just imagine Alone in the Dark as a social commentary. Yeah, it’s *that* bad.
Amidst the excruciating drama, we’re graced with a few action scenes that feel like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers crossed with Hieronymus Bosch. Normally this kind of thing would be entertaining, but most of these scenes are slapped together with bargain-basement CGI that induces more headaches than chuckles. If that wasn’t enough, the cast is mostly made up of famous Japanese teen models. You do the math.
Now I’m unfamiliar with the manga or the anime series, but the film was reportedly booed off the screen by legions of Japanese fans. Just to be sure, I watched it with a friend – a rabid Devilman fan himself – and he couldn’t even finish the movie. From what I’ve been told, the filmmakers took a long-running series and crammed it all into a 2-hour film. So it appears that the only people who can understand this thing are die-hard fans . . . who are likely to hate it even more! How do you like ‘dem apples?
It should be noted that director Hiroyuki Nasu died of cancer shortly after the film’s release – which means Devilman is either the worst swan song in history or the final cruel joke of a vindictive filmmaker. You decide.
(Toei Co. Ltd.)
Directed by Hiroyuki Nasu
Starring Hisato Izaki, Yûsuke Izaki, Ayana Sakai, Asuka Shibuya, Ryudo Uzaki, Yôko Aki
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