Heida Reijirou (Kenji Sawada) used to be one of the most promising archaeologists around, that was until a tragedy befell him which thwarted his blossoming career. He still works in the field, and has invented various devices to assist himself, but none of his contemporaries really take him seriously, though there may be a chance for him to redeem whatever poor reputation he has, if he can muster the courage for it. Some distance away from his current dig, there has been a discovery in a cavern beneath a school, and one of the tutors, Mr Yabe (Naoko Takenaka) is investigating...
But he only gets so far before his noggin is claimed by whatever exists down there in this, the film Shinya Tsukamoto made as his first major studio production after making waves internationally with his mindbending science fiction film Tetsuo: The Iron Man. As such, it was regarded as, if not selling out, then a step towards the mainstream which at the time had fans of his out there work disappointed when it appeared he had crafted a horror flick that any journeyman Japanese director could have made, though Hiruko the Goblin did pick up a few fans who discerned some of the artist's recognisable style.
In truth this was a generic entry in the J-horror stakes before the long-haired ghosts truly took over, yet it did have some amusing qualities, and the director would contradict those who saw this as a simple job for hire, as he would point out this was similar to the films he would make on Super-8 as a younger, budding moviemaker. There was certainly that derivative quality of a talent finding his own voice through his major influences here, except his adherents would have thought he had already done so with Tetsuo, and that Hiruko was a retrograde step. Not to worry, before long we had Tetsuo II and a plethora of other demented fantasies, which did rather leave this unassuming effort forgotten about.
On its own terms, Hiruko was fairly entertaining, and if you didn't know who the director was your high hopes would likely be at a more reasonable pitch as the schoolboy son of Yabe, Masao (Masaki Kudou), has a problem with his back in that every so often he will fall to his knees, his skin steaming, and a little face will appear there. He doesn't know it at first, but these faces belong to those who have succumbed to the power of the goblins, and soon as night falls he loses his two friends who show up decapitated, then ends up stalked through the school corridors by the head of the girl he fancies, Reiko (Megumi Ueno) which has grown legs and is scurrying about like a spider, just like a special effect in John Carpenter's The Thing.
Only not quite as accomplished, as the effects here were on the cheesy side, though no less fun for that, with hints you were not supposed to take this too seriously in the goofy reactions Masao and Heida have to the terrors they are faced with. Sawada, one time pop idol with Japan's answer to The Monkees in The Tigers, plays up the silly angle as he wields a specially created detector complete with red, flashing light, and there's a lot of running about to be contended with should you decide to watch Hiruko, though not perhaps as much gore as you might have expected, bonces popping off bodies aside. Tsukamoto still had an eye for an arresting image, such as Reiko's face emerging from the waters of the local pond and singing away as mist flows past her, though more often those visuals would be of the absurd variety, long tongues on the possessed goblins and all. Really the only problem here was while it got pretty crazy, it never got as hugely outrageous as it kept threatening to, leaving a minor work, but enjoyable. Music by Tatsushi Umegaki.
Japanese writer/director and actor whose controversial, stylised films have bought him considerable notoriety in the West. His 1988 sci-fi body-horror debut Tetsuo: The Iron Man was a hit at international film festivals, and he followed it with the colour sequel/remake, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer. Other films include the supernatural yarn Hiruko the Goblin, boxing fetish tale Tokyo Fist, the urban drama Bullet Ballet, erotic thriller A Snake of June and mental breakdown drama Kotoko.