Genre: Embryonic Terror!
review in one breath
In an attempt to overcome writer's block, an aspiring horror screenplay writer uses his wife's pregnancy as the backdrop for a new gripping and well-received tale. As both his story and the subsequent film progress toward their completion, his finds his real-life situation paralleling the more horrifying elements of his imagination, not least of which is his wife's giving birth to a LIZARD BABY! This is tale five in Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror Hexology.
This is the fifth of six short stories in the collection entitled Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror. For a bit of background on the manga artist Hideshi Hino, I'll refer you to my recent review of the collection's first film, Boy from Hell.
Although each of the six films in this collection is directly based on specific characters and scenarios within Hino's horror manga, each is also the work of a different (up-and-coming) director.
The entire collection of Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror consists of the following six films:
Boy from Hell (director: Mari Asato)
Dead Girl Walking (director: Kôji Shiraishi)
Death Train (director: Kazuyuki Sakamoto)
Doll Cemetery (director: Kiyoshi Yamamoto)
Lizard Baby (director: Yoshihiro Nakamura)
Ravaged House (director: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri)
The director here is Nakamura Yoshihiro. He has worked as either director or writer for several (8 to be exact) of the popular straight-to-video Honti ni Atta! Noroi no Bideo series. And in terms of international releases, he directed the tale "Spider Woman" in the Dark Tales of Japan collection (1999) and the rather impressive The Booth (2005). He also was the screenplay writer for Nakata Hideo's original Dark Water (2002) .
I have personally enjoyed all of Nakamura's work including Lizard Baby if not simply for the ambition and dedication he has shown toward the genre of J-Horror. The list of previous works I mentioned above range from incredibly low-budget Z-grade fare to rather polished and nuanced spook tales. But sheer creativity and determination must also factor in here, which make him, in SaruDama terms, a reliable source of J-Horror entertainment.
The cast here is also quite strong. The lead male character Kotaro is played by Ikeuchi Mansaku who appears in Nakamura's later Booth. In addition (and perhaps more importantly) you'll find him in the very impressive Hikari no Ame (2001) -- which is where I primarily recognize him from --, Ring: The Final Chapter (1999), and The Inugami Family (2006). The lead female role is plated by Arisaka Kurume whom you may recognize from Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Kairo (2001). The supporting cast have appeared in everything from Kill Bill to Tomie: Rebirth to Kuroshiya Ichi.
So there's a decent director and an experienced cast here. But let's be honest about the budget and special effects. They are unabashedly meager. J-Horror fans expecting visually impressive out-of-the-box horror tales will undoubtedly be disappointed. But these 50 minute, straight-to-video vignettes never intended to accomplish such a fete. They were created as experimental forays into recreations of Hideshi Hino's manga horror and can rightly be appreciated as such.
Consider, for example, the degree of tongue-in-cheek humor involved in this tale by blatantly using a obvious lizard puppet in scenes depicting Kotaro's novel and film. These scenes are intentionally comedic while nonetheless conveying enough substance to move the audiences' imagination. Despite such flaunted low budget effects, I suspect most viewers will still have an edge-of-their-seat cringe experience when all is said and done.
In other words, Lizard Baby is fueled by Nakamura and his cast having a good time telling a decent tale with bare-bone resources.
The novice yet aspiring screenplay writer Kotaro has been struggling with his latest assignment. Despite his complete ineptitude with the horror genre he has accepted a publisher's contract to write a screenplay for a horror film. After submitting his best efforts only to meet with rejection, he stumbles upon a moment of inspiration while accompanying his pregnant wife at her prenatal doctor's appointment. Looking at the cartoonish diagrams on the waiting room wall of the developmental stages of the human fetus, he notices how similar their early stages resemble lizard-like creatures. From there his screenplay unfolds, imagining the birth of a child who resemble more Lizard than Human.
The publishers and director view this breakthrough as a hit and quickly set out to put it into action. As the success of his screenplay rises, all seems well with Kotaro's future. Until, that is, he gets an excited call from his in-laws that his wife has given birth. When he finally gets a glimpse of his newborn child, to his horror he realizes that truth is indeed often stranger than fiction.
This is low budget fun from a well-experienced staff and crew. You'll definitely need to take this for what it is and what it is intended to be. Otherwise you are likely in for a big disappointment. Within its own context, however, there are plenty of funny moments and a rather perplexing crescendo. All in all, I think this is quite well done given its time and budget constraints.
AND believe it or not, this short film actually poses a rather substantial question: What if your child turned into a creature you personally cringed at but which your spouse truly loved and was deeply intent on protecting? Would your personal hatred prevail? Or would you give in to the wishes of your beloved spouse?
However you wish to fictionalize such a child (perhaps even to the degree of lizard-hood! ha), you can easily imagine how relevant these basic questions can be. Thus puppet or not, I confess this tale has some grit.
Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD (with English subtitles)
|Not much culture here, although the "evolutionary dream" theory was rather impressive.||Plenty of goofy, tongue-in-cheek schlock gore. But the final moments can easily be quite disturbing.||I'm waiting for the prequel, Lizard Conception.||I like this on a few levels, not least of which is its mastery of ultra-low budget props to draw the audience closer.|