When I first started TOKYOPOP, there were two main reasons I decided to bring manga to the USA:
This was way back before we even called the company TOKYOPOP - and when we "flipped" the reading direction so that manga read from left to right. In fact, Parasyte (寄生獣 "kiseiju" in Japanese), was one of the first four manga we licensed from Japan - and these titles constituted our first publication, the MixxZine magazine. (Note: the other titles were Magic Knight Rayearth, Ice Blade, and of course Sailor Moon; and you can even read the original MixxZine magazines on the Miss Dream website!). Flipping Parasyte meant that "Migi" - the alien being living in main character Shinichi's hand - became "Lefty" in English, even though his name Migi means "right" in Japanese (and since the alien went from living in Shin's right hand to his left hand once the pages were flipped).
Parasyte meant a lot to me since it was the title behind forming my company. I handled the translation and retouch/lettering - and even came up with "Parasite using a Y" as the title (I guess that one stuck since they even use it in the movie and anime).
Well, I finally got around to watching the movie, on the flight from LA to Tokyo. I had heard about the bad reviews, and am always skeptical about movie adaptations (even though I'm developing a few myself). But I have to say - I was pleasantly surprised! Not only did I think "hey, this doesn't suck!" but I actually enjoyed it. (And I wasn't the only one who did).
So, why did I like it when the Kotaku review trashed it? I suppose something is to be said about expectations - I really had low expectations, and wasn't even sure I wanted to watch the film, but sort of felt a strange, reluctant obligation to do so. However, here's why I enjoyed it - and you might too:
The acting - I liked that the characters were grounded, and that the main character Shinichi in particular was a shy, somewhat gloomy teenager. Oftentimes in Japanese films, especially anime and manga adaptations including even highly respected Rurou ni Kenshin, the villains are simply way too over-the-top cartoony for me. Unless I'm watching a fun, silly comedy (like Kung Fu Hustle or Dodgeball), I'd rather have the threat to feel real. In Parasyte, the villains are subdued, somewhat approaching zombie territory but still learning to communicate as humans. It's not easy to be convincing with that set-up, but this cast was able to do so. In other words, the acting was subtle enough to work, unlike typical melodramatic and over-acted manga adaptations.
The pacing - I get bored easily, and while I do enjoy a good slow-paced art film every now and then, in general I want to get caught up in the story. Even during the character set-up, the film never slows, and while there is a bit of exposition, fortunately it's kept to a minimum, and we learn about the world through either fun dialogue, or intriguing visuals.
The production - The director (Takashi Yamazaki, who is one of Japan's most talented modern directors) delivers significant production value, especially for a Japanese film, which typically have much lower budgets compared to their Western counterparts. The composition, cinematography, color and lighting, and design all work well, once again not over-stylized, but with depth. While I was watching the film, it reminded me of Fincher (except for the CG FX - see below).
The CG (visual effects) - here's where Parasyte gambled correctly. Instead of going for a realistic look for its aliens and creatures (which all appear through a morphing process in the human host's body), Yamazaki chooses to use a cartoony and plastic look. This is relatively common in Japanese manga adaptations, but for this movie the odd blend works surprisingly well. It becomes part of the movie's style, and it's relatively easy to accept this hyper-real part of the film, much in the way an audience accepts Stephen Chow's stylization. Going with a realistic look would have required a visual effects budget far beyond that which this movie could afford - and even then the results would still be execution-dependent. So, fitting within the limited budget and delivering the top quality version of this cartoony style was the right choice.
The music - while it did become a bit repetitive at times, the score emphasized the importance of each decision, each tribulation Shinichi must go through. The dark, heavy, epic feel of the score contrasted with the light, plastic feel of the VFX, while working well with the overall dark tone of the film - and this cognitive dissonance paid off.
The action - the fight sequences and the gore delivers. From risk-taking such as killing off a number of students to extended battles between the parasite aliens, there's a lot of exciting, heart-pounding moments to enjoy.
The script - coming from highly respected source material, the adaptation fortunately remains true to the essence of the manga. The adaptation has been produced in two parts (Part 2 is released next month in Japan), so the key plot points could be properly introduced, even though the overall story has been edited to fit the movies. The dialogue is snappy and the characters develop consistently, so I enjoyed the adapted screenplay.
It's certainly not a perfect film, and there were particular scenes that could have been presented more effectively, and the motivations for the villains are questionable at best, leaving the set up for Part 2 unconvincing. And the relationship between Shinichi and Satomi wants to be better explored. But all in all, it's a fun ride, and worth watching!