Mondo Macabro: You Must Be Delicate with Dead Things: Hiruko the Goblin (1991)


Hiruko the Goblin (1991) was director Shinya Tsukamoto’s second full length feature film and his first studio project after his independently made cult hit Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989). It is based on Yokai Hunter, a popular horror manga at the time. It is not a direct adaptation as it combines elements from two different stories and has additional creative elements that Tsukamoto added to spice up the narrative. 

For those who are familiar with his filmography and style, it seems to stand out from his other work, embracing a more straightforward approach and traditional formality. That is not to say it doesn't have some of the weirder proclivities he is known for, but it is definitely subdued in comparison. Interestingly, in several interviews Tsukamoto has stated that Hiruko is actually closer to the style of films he was predisposed to making, but the runaway popularity of Tetsuo cemented him firmly into the horror/cyberpunk genre and he ended up sticking with that artistic path.

Hiruko follows Hieda (Kenji Sawada) an archeologist who also fervently believes in the supernatural, much to the chagrin of his peers. His brother-in-law Yabe (Naoto Takenaka) writes him a letter stating that he has found an ancient burial ground located at a local high school. Hieda rushes to the school to investigate, but discovers that Yabe and a young female student have both gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Hieda teams up with Yabe's son Masao (Masaki Kudou) to find their missing family members as well as battle the ancient and dangerous demon Hiruko.

Visually, the aesthetic of the film is confident and well put together, with the empty school halls and dusty caverns that the characters explore giving the proceedings an eerie feeling. While the majority of the camerawork is standard, there are a few sequences that feature Tsukamoto's patented undercranked chase sequences that are a fun diversion from the more understated moments. There is a lot of gory practical effects on display as well, and the design of Hiruko's "spider head" will be familiar to anyone who has seen John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). 

Tsukamoto seemed to be going for creature feature romp, mixed with the emotional sentimentality of a Spielberg film. It's an intriguing combination that doesn't always work, but it remains entertaining throughout the entire runtime. Hiruko at its heart, is a dark fantasy about a young boy discovering his latent powers as well as coming to terms with death and grief.

The way the narrative is constructed feels like a classic Japanese role-playing game with the characters solving puzzles and collecting items then using the aforementioned items on the "final boss". Tatsushi Umegaki's music compositions compliment the gaming feel with his peppy FM synthesizer infused background music.

While Hiruko seems like a departure from Tsukamoto's intense metal infused body horror, it is fascinating to see him make something a little more lowkey, comparatively, and explore a different, more tender side of his artistic expression.

Mondo Macabro Special Features:

-Brand new 2k restoration from original negative.

-New interview with director Shinya Tsukamoto.

-Archival interview with director Shinya Tsukamoto.

-Intro to the film by director Shinya Tsukamoto.

-Archival inteview with the Special Effects Creator.

-SFX featurette.

-Audio commentary from author Tom Mes.

-Mondo Macabro previews.

--Michelle Kisner