Let me begin by saying how incredible Media Blasters recent string of releases has been. From the Deluxe Edition re-release of Fudoh: The New Generation to the loaded Ryuhei Kitamura DVDs Alive, Aragami and Sky High. All of these dropped on their 'Tokyo Shock' imprint, but their newest release, Shinya (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) Tsukamoto's Hiruko The Goblin (1990) seems to be in conjunction with 'Fangoria International.' There are additional trailers on the DVD for other 'Fangoria International/Shriek Show' titles, including Takashi Miike's recent One Missed Call and Deadly Outlaw Rekka (which I know is on the 'Tokyo Shock' imprint), interestingly enough.
Maybe it has something to do with the "type" of movie Hiruko The Goblin is? This isn't to say that Hiruko The Goblin is a bad movie, but those expecting "Tetsuo III" or really anything resembling Shinya Tsukamoto's typical output will be sorely disappointed. In fact, Tsuakamoto himself gives insight into this film's divergent style. In an interview conducted around the time of Bullet Ballet (1998)) he says that when he made Tetsuo The Iron Man and Tetsuo II that he knew they were both independent films and that he could do whatever he liked, get away with whatever thematic and stylistic whims he wanted to explore, but Hiruko The Goblin was a different story altogether. Instead it was a project which a studio was financing and he felt the need to play it safe, but don't worry, this still ain't Disney.
Hiruko The Goblin is a straight out horror movie, a "monster" movie, to be even more specific. Telling a tale steeped in Japanese folklore, and introducing a hero who is a cross between, Ash, Indiana Jones and a Ghostbuster (somewhat of a cross between the Ray Stantz and Egon Spendler characters), this is definitely a fun movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. In fact, this is Tsukamoto's most mainstream film, and while not the one I that would show to introduce people to his work, it makes for an interesting detour in his otherwise progressive and occasionally pretentious oeuvre.
Local archeologist Takashi (Naoto Takenaka) is exploring an ancient burial mound in the vicinity of the High School with one of his students, a young cutie named Reiko (Megumi Ueno) who his son Masao (Masaki Kudou) has an incurable crush on. Going against the superstitious townspeople, the two brave the dank, underground chambers until something dreadful attacks them. Thankfully, Takashi sent a letter telling of his recent discovery to his widowed brother-in-law, the gadget-obsessed Hieda (Kenji Sawada). It seems that there is a grudge between the two men over the death of Hieda's wife/Takashi's sister during one of Hieda's dangerous expeditions. Hieda sees the letter as a sign and hopes to go and patch things up with his former colleague and friend.
When Takashi doesn't return home, Masao and his friends fear the worst and go looking for him. Even the creepy old janitor can't keep them away from the school, and when they see Reiko in a window, they sneak into the building. Unfortunately for them, the spirit known as Hiruko has removed Reiko's head and attached it to the body of an enormous spider. Hiruko oversees a veritable army of these things, but each needs a human head to think and act on its own. Masao's friends find this out the hard way, but Hieda arrives and saves Masao in the nick of time. Armed with Hieda's arcane knowledge and his bizarre gadgets (including a 'Goblin' detector!!!), the two set out to find the ancient burial mound and seal Hiruko and his evil brood underground forever.
I think that based on this description you can tell that Hiruko The Goblin is a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. In that regard it's much different from most of Tsukamoto's other films. In the accompanying interview on the DVD, Tsukamoto actually brings up comparisons between Hiruko The Goblin and his other works, citing the themes he likes to deal with, namely that of 'Dead Girl Romance,' wherein one or more protagonists lose someone they love in the beginning of the film and then work out their feelings throughout the rest of the movie. At least that's the case he makes for Hiruko The Goblin, Bullet Ballet and Tokyo Fist, which had all been completed when the interview was conducted, but the trend actually continues into his films Gemini and Vital as well.
Picture: The film is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film looks great and actually surprised me with its vibrancy and quality considering its 15 years old. Amazingly, the effects, which as you can imagine are all physical, look great and have aged much better than ay computer effects ever could.
Audio: The Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Track sounds great, as does the soundtrack, which I usually don't comment on, but felt really helped to add another layer of pulpy fun onto this deliriously fun, over-the-top fright flick.
Extras: Media Blasters has included as Extras on this DVD an interview with Director Shinya Tsukamoto, an interview with the Special Effects Designer, a "Goblin Creation" featurette, a Stills Gallery and trailers for other Fangoria International and Shriek Show releases.
Conclusion: It's nice to see a serious director take a break every now and then. Lynch has The Straight Story, Cronenberg has The Fly, both films speak volumes about each director, but they are also more accessible to mainstream audiences than say a Blue Velvet or Naked Lunch. While Tsukamoto's hardcore fans may look down on the more 'Scooby Doo' aspects of the flick, did Scooby and the gang ever encounter headless torsos geysering blood or the head of a beautiful girl attached firmly to the chitinous body of a giant arachnid? For those of you more open minded looking for a cheap 'monster mash,' Hiruko The Goblin is Recommnded.