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The Boy from Hell   B-

Pony Canyon / PAL Entertainments

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Mari Asato
Writers: Seiji Tanigawa, Naoteru Yamamoto (based on manga by Hideshi Hino)
Cast: Mirai Yamamoto, Mitsuru Akaboshi, Shôta Someya, Kanji Tsuda, Baku Numata, Hanae Shôji.

Review by Jim Harper

Frequently described as the king of horror manga, Hideshi Hino has been creating his own brand of graphic horror for nearly three decades now. Given the success of the many Junji Ito adaptations, it's perhaps surprising that there have been no attempts to translate Hino's stories to the big or small screen, although Hino himself directed two installments in the notorious Guinea Pig series (Flowers of Flesh and Blood and Mermaid in a Manhole). Both films showcased his talent for grotesque stories and over-the-top gore. In 2004 Pony Canyon announced the development of a series of six short features, each 50 minutes to an hour in length, based upon Hino's work. The Boy from Hell is the first to be released.

The film opens upon an idyllic scene: Setsu (Mirai Yamamoto) and her young son Daio being chauffeured through the countryside on a bright summer's day. Their pleasant day is cut short by a tragic accident, leaving the boy decapitated on the side of the road. Later on, at the boy's funeral, the mother listens to the words of a crazy old woman: if she cuts the throat of another young boy over her son's grave, her son will return to her. Since she works in a children's hospital, Setsu has no problem procuring a victim for the sacrifice. In the finest "Monkey's Paw" tradition, things do not go according to plan. The creature that crawls out of the grave doesn't look much like the beloved Daio, and it's hungry for human flesh. But like any good mother, Setsu can't bear to see her son go hungry. It isn't long, however, before there's a policeman sticking his extremely large nose into her affairs.

In keeping with the source material, The Boy from Hell is certainly over the top and grotesque. The Boy himself resembles a grown-up version of Larry Cohen's It's Alive baby dressed in school uniform, with some postmortem decay thrown in for good measure. And the policeman does have an extremely large prosthetic nose. The gore is laid on relatively thick, with plenty or bloody geysers and entrails on display. The director stops short of showing us the kidnapped children being slaughtered, but she does give us the painstaking (and somewhat protracted) dismemberment in silhouette, complete with a truly unpleasant soundtrack. Needless to say, this is a film that might not endear itself too strongly to the censors on either side of the Atlantic.

There are moments of levity however. At one point the Boy charges at a traffic mirror, believing there to be another victim there; it's only his reflection of course. A Renaissance painting of the Madonna and child is flipped over to reveal Goya's bloody rendition of Cronos devouring his children. Rather than attempt a realistic translation of the manga to the screen, Asato utilizes digital manipulation, deliberately fantastic special effects, and exaggerated performances to capture the feel of Hino's work. For the most part she is successful, but the attempts to make the audience feel sympathy for the Boy and his mother fall flat; the film is just too outlandish and gleefully gruesome to allow for moments of genuine emotion.

Despite the lack of originality (it's really just a reworking of the aforementioned "Monkey's Paw" tale and It's Alive trilogy), The Boy from Hell should find an appreciative audience among those familiar with the excesses of extreme Asian cinema. Hino fans will no doubt find it a far better representation of the great man's style and approach than the controversial but ultimately tedious Guinea Pig series. However, the morbid and brutal subject matter, combined with Asato's comic-book stylings, will probably alienate the majority of mainstream viewers.

Review published 02.21.2006.

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