[Review] HIRUKO THE GOBLIN (Japan Cuts): Weird Collides with Wacky in This Mind-Blowing Japanese Demon Romp

Two years after his dark, surreal cult classic Testsuo: The Iron Man was unleashed on an unsuspecting world, director Shin’ya Tsukamoto unveiled his first studio effort, Hiruko the Goblin (1991). Based on two yōkai stories from manga artist Daijiro Morohoshi, the film is a frenetic, madcap tale of demons whose gate from Hell happens to be under a high school and the two unlucky souls who try to close that gate. Hiruko the Goblin is currently playing as part of Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film with a fantastic-looking new 2K restoration to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary.

It’s as if Tsukamoto, who wrote and directed Hiruko the Goblin, decided to cram everything he adored from his Japanese horror influences and from the 1980s fright-fare cinema that he loved most — along with all of his lifelong “If I ever get to make a horror movie with a budget . . .” ideas — into one film, and I mean all of that in a complimentary way. Influences — from camera work to plot ideas to special effects homages — ranging from Sam Raimi’s first two Evil Dead films to David Cronenberg’s The Fly to John Carpenter’s The Thing and beyond are on display, and there is certainly a feel of Hausu and Lovecraftian mythology at play here, too. 

Bring your most willing suspension of disbelief possible with you when watching Hiruko the Goblin. The film is a daffy feast for the senses that cares little about its plot making a great deal of sense, with jaw-dropping visuals that lean toward the cheesy (deliberately so, I would venture to guess) and acting that gives new meaning to over-the-top. 

Archaeologist and believer in the mystical Reijiro Hieda (Kenji Sawada) is summoned to a remote country village via a letter from his colleague Takashi Yabe (Naoto Takenaka), who disappears along with one of his high school students. Yabe opened a gateway to Hell, and now the friends and fellow high school students of his son Masao (Masaki Kudo) are being murdered. Hieda and Masao — who suddenly finds himself suffering from grotesque growths on his back — discover the location of the tomb from where all hell is breaking loose and attempt to close it.

If human-headed spider demons with long tongues that force their victims to behead themselves isn’t enough to entice you into seeing this film, I’m not sure what to tell you, though plenty more is on tap. Stop-motion special effects that recall those of 1970’s Equinox await you, for example.

Gleefully zany and wonderfully weird, Hiruko the Goblin is a blast. The 2K restoration looks and sounds super, and is a great way to discover or rediscover this creature feature.

Hiruko the Goblin screens as part of Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film, which runs as an in-person event in New York City and also as online hybrid event, from August 20–September 2, 2021. For more information, visit here.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.