Is it in our heads?

A review of Parasite in Love (moderate spoilers)

In a dark room, crammed with computers and devices, Kengo Kosaka prepares his revenge against the world: a malware that will disrupt all communications on Christmas Eve. He remembers the suicide of his parents when he was 8 years old, the mockery at school, being rejected… Kengo washes and scrubs his hands frantically for his panic fear of dirt and germs (mysophobia) means he has no place in this world.

Somewhere else, lying in a park, Hijiri Sanagi reads a book. She meets children, she hates them and the way they stare at her. Hijiri simply cannot stand being looked at and observed (scopophobia), she has shunned herself from the outside world by wearing a headset all the time. Her memories are the inquisitive eyes of a grandfather, a scientist who told her as a child that she was sick, just like her mother, because a parasite lives inside her brain. Hijiri thinks she will die but does not panick, she lives with it.

How could these two young people possibly meet? Yet… Izumi, a mysterious man who seems to know a lot of things, contacts Kengo and forces him to not only meet Hijiri but to take care of her. After a difficult beginning that gives rise to scenes where tragic-comic dialogues and special effects are sometimes disturbing, the feeling of love emerges. Both of them aspire to do normal things, like everybody else… but is this mutual attraction the work of the human heart or the product of the influence of parasites living in their brains? Kengo is also infected.

Parasites in Love…what a strange title, at first sight not very engaging for a story which in the end turns out to be quite beautiful. A strange and bewitching fantastic tale carried by the actors. There are extras but very few secondary characters apart from Arata Iura (Izumi, the mysterious man) and Ryo Ishibashi (Yuichi, the grandfather), the Hayashi/Komatsu combo gives flesh and weight to the story and the emotions. 

As Kengo Kosaka, Kento Hayashi paints a somewhat striking portrait of a complex, fragile and socially excluded person whose lack of empathy gradually disappears when he comes into contact with Hijiri. 

Over the years, Nana Komatsu has practically become a specialist of the ‘offbeat character’ and with Hijiri she gives nearly everything she’s got. Anti social, facetious and abrupt, her character hides in fact a deep wound and profound distress. Using with finesse her impressive arsenal of mimics and facial expressions, the actress also gives us some ‘explosive’ scenes that we had not seen since Kuru/It comes (2018) or even Destruction Babies (2016). Quite remarkable indeed!

The two thespians as well as their characters finally ‘meet’ in two emotionally intense scenes, the one in which Kosaka reads the letter that Hijiri sent him from her hospital bed is a must watch…

The director said he wanted to make a film that would question the audience about the place we give to ‘minorities’, whatever they are. I think he succeeded, behind the symbolism of these two outcasts and the metaphor of insects and parasites that either control us or simply live with humans, there are many questions which he does not always answer – he is not God – but which have the merit of being asked. However, the lake scene, one of great visual and emotional strength, does provide some elements (no spoilers!)

Behind the appearance of what could be perceived as a long and seductive post-modern clip, there is a truly original piece. Beneath the surface of the stylistic exercise, well served by a beautiful cinematography and an often apropos soundtrack, there is a deep film that tells us in substance that in order to integrate a society whose norms are sometimes crushing there is a price to pay…but isn’t that price to pay too high? To be like the others, to be ‘normal’, do we have to give up what we used to do and forget who we were and what we felt?

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