Shinsuke Sato, known from narratives like I am a Hero (2016), Bleach (2018), and Kingdom (2019), is slowly cementing himself as a director that has the skill and the talent to bring manga-narratives in a truly pleasing and exciting way to the silver screen. Does he succeed again with his adaptation of Hiroya Oku’s hit comic Inuyashiki?
While Ichiro Inuyashiki (Noritake Kinashi) is father in name, no one in the family, not even his wife (Mari Hamada), takes him into account. Mari (Ayaka Miyoshi), his daughter, as well as Takeshi (Nayuta Fukuzaki) are embarrassed in him. At his work, he keeps making mistakes, obviously sabotaging his chances for promotion. To make matters worse, he is, at a medical check-up, diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and is given only has three months to life.
One night, after being ordered by his wife to part with his dog Hanako, he ends up being involved in a mysterious explosion. He wakes up and slowly come to realize he has turned into a cyborg with incredible powers. High school student, Hiro Shishigami (Takeru Sato), also affected by the same explosion, also discovers he has gained super-natural powers. But whereas Inuyashiki realizes he can use his powers for the good, Shishigami sees more potential in using his powers for his own narcissistic pleasure.
Inuyashiki, beyond being a super-hero narrative, is a narrative exploring, in a lighthearted way, the (quite impossible) position of being a father. Ichiro Inuyashiki is – there is no other way to formulate it – an impotent father, a father without authority within his family. There is, in fact, no one within the family that wants to give him the function of a symbolic father. Everyone, even his wife, has accepted (and even confronts him with the fact) that he is unable to fulfill this position, that he is a failure and a disappointment. And while this is true for any father – the fact that he, in some way or another, always will end up being a disappointment, Inuyashiki, by subtle comical exaggeration, is able to underline this truth in a lighthearted but, ultimately, also in a painful way.
In fact, what is most painful is not that he, as a father, is a failure, but that he, as as real person behind the signifier ‘father’, is not given a place within the family. He has no right to speak, no right to want something within the family. By making his initial position (of a zero) so emotionally charged, Sato’s narrative succeeds in making Inuyashiki’s transition into a hero so satisfying – something most Marvel movies have consistently failed to do.
At his work, Inuyashiki is also revealed as someone who is unable to do his work in a decent way. But making errors is not the main problem. The main problem is that Inuyashiki, beyond offering apologies, has no way to change his ways. He is, in fact, not able to do better.
Why does Inuyashiki become the hero and Shishigami a villain? The fundamental difference is that Shishigami, from the very start, is enamored by his own powers. He is narcissistically invested in what those powers allow him to do and become. It is therefore not surprising that he enjoys uses his powers against others, others that have, in one way or another, hurt him at the level of his ego (Narra-note 1). It is moreover this knowledge of being superpowered that dictates how he presents himself, i.e. his narcissistic attitude. But Shishigami is, as the narrative shows, not a one-dimensional character. His violent acting-out, born from an imaginary injury, an injury concerning his familial constellation, does not annul the fact that he deeply cares about his mother (Narra-note 2 (spoiler)).
Inuyashiki is, for that matter, troubled by his discovery of having changed into a super-powered cyborg. It is also, by mere chance, that he realizes that he can use his powers to help others. His way of using his powers is revealed as being unselfishness, devoid of the intention to directly satisfy himself, his ego, with his powers. Of course, the act of doing good, seeing the positive impact of his actions, affects Inuyashiki’s ego – the good-for-nothing can do something good. Not only does he find a new purpose in life, i.e. saving people, he, aided by his power, also takes small but largely unsuccessful steps to realize a father position within the family constellation (Narra-note 3).
Inuyashiki is composed with a fluid dynamism, but the cinematographical dynamism is, in most cases, in accordance with movement by characters. This is to say, in scenes where the emphasis is on speech/conversations and not on action, scenes where static shots take precedence, cinematographical movement will, in most cases, echo the on-screen movement (Cine-note 1). And the same is true for action-sequences and sequences where action presides over speech-interactions. Camera-movement within these scenes are always used to support and to empower the ever-exciting on-screen action.
That Inuyashiki is such a pleasing narrative to watch and, frankly, a quite emotional experience is due to its great musical accompaniment. While, it must be said, the dramatic music is sometimes a bit too dramatic, Inuyashiki must be applauded for creating, by perfectly balancing tensive music with silence, many truly tensive and thrilling moments. And the birth of Inuyashiki’s heroic resolve, for that matter, is splendidly underlined by the accompanying heroic music.
When special effects are used in Japanese (live action) movies, these effects often end up being unconvincing or, in other words, not able to suspend our disbelief. But Inuyashiki, surprisingly, succeeds where many Japanese narratives falter. The special effects are, in short, great and heighten, instead of suppressing, our visual pleasure. This is most evident in the narrative’s visually thrilling and action-rich finale. The fluid dynamic composition of the final confrontation between Inuyashiki and Shishigami would not have able to provide all the thrills a super-hero finale should have if it were not for the more then decent special effects.
While all acting performances are great, there is one performance that stands out: the performance of Takeru Sato, who plays the villain. At any given time, the spectator can, due to his performance, feel how smitten Shishigami is with his powers – his narcissistic investment – and how he subtly enjoys using his super-powers.
Inuyashiki is a splendid super-hero narrative with a distinct Japanese flavour. Not only does Sato’s narrative provide the visual thrills we’ve come to expect from the super-hero genre, Inuyashiki also offers a compelling narrative touching upon the struggles of being a father – the theme of family and love – and the ravishing effects social media can have on one’s subjectivity. Yes, the narrative features many tropes of the super-hero genre and several aspects in the finale are predictable, but that does not stop Inuyashiki from being a more satisfying experience than most western super-hero narratives.
Narra-note 1: The main imaginary injury that marks Shishigami’s subjectivity is all due to his father. Due to his father, he does not have a family like others, does not have the family happiness others have, and most importantly has not had a childhood like others.
This injury, induced by his father, animates the whole of Shishigami’s conduct. When he first murders, he murders to destroy the kind of family happiness he has never known.
Narra-note 2: Knowing that his acts have hurt his precious mother and have thwarted their familial happiness is not without repercussions on Shishigami’s state of mind.
Especially after the toxicity of the media and the social media causes his mother to commit suicide, Shishigami becomes vengeful against the whole of society. It is not just the father that took away familial happiness anymore, but society at large, as represented by the enjoying anonymous others of social media. The anger against his father has become anger against society.
Narra-note 3: While his first subjective act is his decision to not throw Hanako away, he is not able to stand up for this subjective act to his wife. In other words, he cannot say to her that he is not going to throw her away.
It is nevertheless only after changing into a cyborg that he becomes able to state his opinion within the family and attempt, although largely but not completely unsuccessful, to realize a position as father.
Cine-note 1: Of course, exceptions are present. In most of these cases, it concerns the use of spatial movement, irrespective of on-screen movement.