Movie Review: Homunculus (2021)

Homunculus (dir. Takashi Shimizu, 2021) – A homeless amnesiac awakens from an experimental medical procedure with the ability to see people’s innermost traumas.


From Tetsuo to Tokyo Gore Police, Japanese horror cinema seems to have few boundaries. Bizarre fetishes or shock brutality are often liberally shown on screen, driven by absurd plots and brought to life in lurid colours with confidence.

Tending to ignore the conventional arc that Hollywood directors are prone to, these filmmakers celebrate oddities and dare to manipulate reality in ways never done before. As long as one can put the concept to paper, they can put it to screen. Case in point: Homunculus.

Based on Hideo Yamamoto (who also wrote Ichi the Killer), the live-action adaptation follows Susumu Nokoshi (Gô Ayano), a homeless amnesiac who has been living out of his car. In a bid to solve his money woes, he agrees to the strange experiment of medical student Manabu Ito (Ryô Narita) – to have a hole drilled through his skull, in hopes of unleashing the untapped potential of his mind.

Photo: Avex Pictures
Time for new glasses.

Susumu goes through the trepanation procedure and soon experiences inexplicable visions, from a part-mecha to a woman disintegrating into sand. Manabu explains that what Susumu is seeing are the innermost traumas of the people around him. Their troubled minds manifest in myriad ways, each an almost literal reflection of their buried memories.

These first moments of revelation are visually interesting. Susumu’s varied hallucinations make for a distinct aesthetic that holds our curiosity. We also wonder what he may see when he looks into the mirror with no memories of his past. When he sees Manabu as a body of water, another compelling plot surfaces in the student surgeon’s hidden past and motive for the experiment.

Photo: Avex Pictures
Lost his head.

The movie however, also suffers from its very unbridled creativity. The deep dive into Susumu’s own trauma is where things get incredibly strange and uncomfortable. The slow-burning pace is the least of the movie’s problems. Initial intrigue soon turns into discomfort with fetishised portrayals of women, which gets worse during a gratuitous scene of sexual assault.

This unnecessary turn distracts from what initially looked to be a more thoughtful delve into the struggle in the everyday man to cope with their dark pasts. For all that uneasy build-up, there is but an incoherent bundle of twists  at the finish line, which ultimately offers little beyond frustration in return.

Visual intrigue devolves into discomfort in the odd tangled story of Homunculus.

Homunculus is now on Netflix.


8 thoughts on “Movie Review: Homunculus (2021)

    1. Cheers for reading, Tony! You can definitely skip this one. That said, there are several Japanese movies I’d highly recommend. I just love their willingness to embrace weird!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Japanese Horror is an interesting niche of horror cinema. I’ve seen Tetsuo and thought was good, but Homunculus seems to throw away a promising premise for a mix of creative abandon and extreme violence. Great review and I like how you covered the movie and gave so much detail. Not seem many Japanese horror, but I do remember a film called Pulse (2001), which was a kind techno-noir style horror film. That was really good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have yet to see Tetsuo (the Iron Man, right?) But I kind of get what you’re saying about J horror movies. OOT, but title alone reminds me of Fullmetal Alchemist, which also reminds of a ‘traumatic’ viewing experience, i.e., chimera.

    Not strictly horror movie, but have you seen One Cut of the Dead?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tetsuo is an interesting watch, I believe you can find it on YouTube! I haven’t had a chance to see Full Metal Alchemist or One Cut unfortunately. Would you recommend it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I tried watching Tetsuo before but thought this type of ‘weird’ isn’t for me. Might try again another time. I’d recommend One Cut of the Dead, but go in blind–don’t read reviews or anything. Full Metal, I’d recommend too.. IIRC, just 26 episodes or maybe 32.. It’s also good, intriguing plot/story around philosopher’s stone.

        Liked by 1 person

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