Junji ItoJapanese
Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack
Also known as: Gyo (anime)
Medium: OVA, film
Year: 2012
Writer: Akihiro Yoshida, Takayuki Hirao
Director: Takayuki Hirao
Original creator: Junji Ito
Keywords: horror, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 71 minutes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=13361
Website category: Anime early 10s
Review date: 1 June 2016
It's the only Junji Ito anime to date! Obviously I had to own it. I'm a fan of Junji Ito, the writer/artist of head trip horror manga like Tomie, Uzumaki and more. Mind you, I've seen quite a few live-action Junji Ito adaptations, so seeing him turned into anime was perhaps always going to be slightly disconcerting.
In hindsight, mind you, it's obvious why this wasn't a live-action film. Tomie and Uzumaki are intimate stories. Feverish, nightmarish and taking you to a realm where reality is plastic, yes, but played out on a small scale that's perfect for a low-budget horror movie. Gyo, on the other hand, is sharkpocalypse. It's the end of the world. Civilisation's about to be eaten up by fish. To tell this story in live-action would take an insane budget and anime's the perfect medium.
It's quite a lot like a big, splashy zombie movie. However it has lots of Junji Ito differences:
(a) they're not zombies, but thousands of rotting fish on mechanical legs. These might be any size, from goldfish up to sharks. These can be oddly cute (in a creepy, ugly, phobia-inducing way), but seeing our first one is genuinely freaky. You've got this little thing running around the carpet at ankle height. It's going at top speed. It's scuttling like an insect, in fact. Imagine trying to squash a cockroach in your living room that keeps going just a bit too fast for you to be able to see properly. It's scrabbling across the carpet or diving behind the sofa... AND IT'S A FISH.
(b) the farting.
(c) the popping and bursting. What???
(d) the moment where the anime art style briefly goes all Junji Ito-esque with the flaming gas faces.
(e) the circus, which apparently plays a bigger role in the manga.
...and more. When it gets good (i.e. towards the end), it's because it's started to feel like Junji Ito. It's pushed weirdness beyond the point of suspending disbelief, to a deeper, more fundamentally mad place where to question the internal logic is to miss the point. Junji Ito tells stories where reality itself seems to be insane. This movie isn't so much about drama or spectacle, but more simply about the experience of seeing an apocalypse that's tap-dancing on the borderline between unintentional comedy and bloody insanity made flesh. What the hell is driving the fish-legs and how did it get that way? I'm not sure, but I still boggled at what little we get told.
Unfortunately Gyo's first half isn't very good.
It looks as if they changed a lot from the manga. They made the girl the main character and made her intelligent and practical, rather than annoying, bitchy and whiny. Sounds good so far. They gave her two friends who aren't in the manga and gave them important story roles. I like that too. Admittedly they've got rid of the comedy (boo), but even so in principle these changes seem sensible.
The problem is that the writer/director (Takayuki Hirao) doesn't really bring these characters alive. On paper, the characterisation's fine. A bit one-dimensional and nothing we haven't seen in other disaster movies, perhaps, but an actress in live-action could have eaten up the screen as either Erika or Aki. In the anime, though, they're just there. Nothing's really inviting us to pay attention to them. Their dialogue comes across as lacking weight and we don't really care what they do. (The direction is clearly at fault, but it won't have helped that, as far as I can tell, all these voice actors seem never to have acted in anything else.) The only character who I thought seemed to come alive as a person was that cameraman, Shirakawa, on the plane.
One character's mini-breakdown is thrown away, for instance. You'd hope the director would look back today and be embarrassed at not getting more from material like that. Similarly the plane crash scene doesn't work, because it's incredible that any pilot would try to touch down in those lethal conditions. He attempts it. He crashes. What an idiot. The film hasn't reached the Junji Ito level of fevered surrealism that would stop you from asking such questions, but at the same time it hasn't thought to provide any justification for the scene (e.g. the plane being critically short of fuel or something).
Personally, though, I liked it. I'm underwhelmed by the first half, but eventually I thought it built up to something good and Junji Ito-ish. It has memorable imagery, only some of which is deranged. I liked the wall of policemen in their infection suits shoving away our heroine, for instance. (I must buy some of his manga, by the way. Apart from anything else, they're short, which is a plus for me since reading in Japanese takes me a while. Gyo and Tomie are only two volumes, I think, while Uzumaki is three.) Unfortunately, though, I'd struggle to recommend this OVA to anyone who wasn't a Junji Ito fan and even then I suspect they'd prefer the manga. The characters seem flatter than they are and the story takes too long to get you interested in watching them. There's plenty of good stuff here, but you'll have to wait to reach it.