Henge (Japan, 2011) [Japan Cuts 2012]

Hajime Ohata’s no-budget shocker Henge clocks in at a mere 54 minutes, but it packs quite a punch.  It didn’t win any awards at the Yubari Film Festival where it premiered in its native Japan, but it has a lot of people talking abroad.

Henge which translates to “metamorphosis” tells the story of Yoshiaki (Kazunari Aizawa) and his devoted wife Keiko (Aki Morita) who at first appears to be dealing with an illness that involves Yoshiaki experiencing debilitating seizures.  What we soon learn is that Yoshiaki is possessed by some type of alien creature and he begins to slowly transform into a monster.  A colleague of Yoshiaki’s, Sakashita (Teruhiko Nobukuni) tries to help the couple, but soon becomes just as overwhelmed and at a loss as Keiko.  Sakashita eventually has Yoshiaki dragged off to a mental institution, but he soon escapes and comes home to Keiko.  Keiko, wanting desperately to believe that her husband is not a monster, hides him even after reports of horrific murders leave her wondering if her husband is responsible. 

Henge moves at a quick pace—it has to as it’s under an hour long—but tells a fantastic story of unconditional love, though it does so without dwelling on sentimentality.  Yes, the couple is tested when Yoshiaki seems to be doomed to a horrible fate, but the unexpected ending turns out to be quite bleak.  Reminiscent of Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo (1989) with its body horror and psychosexual imagery, Ohata’s metamorphosis is organic as opposed to mechanic.  The monster looks to be made out of tree roots, which begs the question, is the monster of alien origin or is it somehow from closer to home?  This question is somewhat of a nod to Godzilla (1954) in which the monster was a product of man’s irresponsibility and thoughtlessness.

I thoroughly enjoyed Henge and recommend that you see it if the opportunity arises.

Henge played at Japan Cuts, a festival of contemporary Japanese film at the Japan Society in New York City and is making the rounds at film festivals worldwide.