Based on the long running and popular manga series from the 1970s by Go Nagai, whom some of you will recognise as the creator of Cutie Honey, this live action adaptation of Devilman carries with it a certain level of expectation. Unfortunately, the film isn’t quite as great as it should have been. While it does have some good parts, the film on the whole doesn’t quite live up to the expectation.
The story begins when a mysterious force is released from the South Pole, taking over the bodies of humans and turning them into demons. As more and more demons emerge, a war breaks out between the humans and demons. Akira (Hisato Izaki) and Ryo (Yusuke Izaki, twin brother of Hisato) are two good friends, who both get exposed to the unknown force. Akira is transformed into Devilman, who is determined to protect the humans, including his adopting uncle, aunt and their beautiful daughter Miki (Ayana Sakai), whom he is in love with. Ryo, on the other hand, is transformed into Satan, who wants to destroy all humans and create a ‘New World’. As the conflict between humans and demons escalates, and the line between good and evil becomes increasingly blurred, a final showdown between Devilman and Satan becomes inevitable…
Devilman is fundamentally a story about the struggle between humans and demons, between good and evil, and between two former friends. While the basic plot line is easy enough to follow, there are actually quite a lot of gaps in the story-telling, making it hard for viewers to work out what is going on in any detail. As the title character, Akira (Devilman) is the focus of the film, while Ryo (Satan) gets much less screen time. The disappointing thing is that the audience doesn’t really get to know Akira, certainly not enough for them to develop any sympathy or liking for him or Devilman. This is problematic because it really detracts from the significance of the fight between Devilman and Satan, which should have been a battle of epic proportion. The wooden performances by the Izaki brothers don’t help either. These young actors only manage to display a handful of different facial expressions throughout the entire movie.
Most viewers would be interested in watching this film for its action and special effects, and there are plenty of these. The quality ranges from reasonably decent to not quite up to standard. Despite this, the visual effects are probably still the best thing about the film. The highlight is the final fight between Devilman and Satan, which, while short of being spectacular, is still very enjoyable to watch. Also, the transformation of Miko (Asuka Shibuya) into her demon form is beautiful. Most of the other CG effects are unfortunately less well handled.
Another strength of the film is that it touches on some serious themes, such as how cruel and destructive humans can be, and the effects war has on children. These are not explored in any depth, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, because the focus of the movie is action.
Devilman represents a missed opportunity for the filmmakers to turn some excellent source material into a great film. It has been let down by weak acting and a poor script. However, for those of you who know and love the original manga series, are fans of the young actors in the movie, or like Japanese cult movies in general, I would suggest that you check out Devilman for yourselves, as you may actually find more to like about the film than I did.