Of all the topics movies and shows touch on, cannibalism is one you rarely hear much about; and perhaps with good reason. Sir Anthony Hopkins single-handedly perfected the genre with his rendition of Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs franchise and Mads Mikkelson revived the role for television with the Hannibal series. Aside from those projects, we’ve seen the occasional one-off tale where that the concept of cannibalism is an aside as opposed to a focus, like American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman (although his penchant for devouring his victims was only hinted at in the film). Lately though, more stories have included the disturbing topic, including Netflix’s Jeffrey Dahmer and the Timothée Chalamet feature Bones and All.
Following the trend, Gannibal is a Japanese horror series starring Yûya Yagira as police officer Daigo Agawa, recently relocated the to seemingly idyllic, but sleepy, Kuge Village in the mountains with his wife, Yuki (Riho Yoshioka), and daughter, Mashiro (Kokone Shimizu). Unsurprisingly, all is not what it seems. Enter the Goto Family: the main focus of Gannibal’s brutal seven episode story arc. With several generations living together and retaining very tight control of the locale, rumors surround the family that they’re continuing to protect a certain secret at all costs: that they’re actually cannibals.
Gannibal is streaming now on Hulu!
REVIEW – Unnerving Suspense, Thrills and Gore
As the film begins, we see that Daigo Agawa’s predecessor, Officer Kano (Kana Kita), began his own investigation into Kuge Village before mysteriously disappearing—an event which led to Daigo coming on as his replacement. Initially, Agawa’s wife Yuki, is the first to take note of the villagers’ strangeness—a detail which Daigo shrugs off as local customs and traditions. On the first night, he’s invited to dine with the villagers, spearheaded by Keisuke Goto (tactfully played by Shô Kasamatsu), who gets Daigo drunk, stops a bar fight, and prods him about his origins as an officer in the big city. It seems that Daigo has a more sordid past than he lets off.
This introductory scene is a bit of a preview into the cast’s acting style and approach as the series really goes on: Kasamatsu’s Keisuke carefully teeters between restrained psycho to reluctant villain, while Yûya Yagira’s Daigo Agawa cycles through a handful of expressions that—while perhaps suited to the character—don’t always express the gravity of his situations. Riho Yoshioka really delivers as the heart and soul of the Agawa family as Yuki Agawa, delivering a wide ranging performance that sometimes spans dozens of emotions per scene.
That same night, young Mashiro sneaks out of the house and stumbles across a seemingly-mummified giant who haunts the village (known by the locals as “That Man”), to whom she offers one of her candies; he gives her a severed finger straight out of his mouth in exchange, but fortunately does no harm to the girl. When Daigo later finds the severed finger, Yuki shows him the etching she discovered on one of their new home’s door frames, which reads, “Run Away.”
This starts a series of increasingly unnerving events, all which point back to the Goto family as either the source of chaos or the protector of chaos in the quaint village. One thing is for sure, the Goto family is more connected than they seem. After being ambushed by That Man in broad daylight, even the Morobe Police Department Head (played by Gô Rijû with the same understated cunning that Shô Kasamatsu showed before) seems to side with the Gotos above discovering the truth. Things get increasingly violent around Kuge Village as Daigo Agawa gets closer to the truth.
Gannibal is impressive in a lot of areas: Japanese cinema has its own standards of production, acting and quality and this one easily competes with (and in certain cases exceeds) American productions in a variety of ways. First, the cinematography is stunning. Filmed on location in the beautiful Nagano Mountains of Japan, the backgrounds themselves are enough to get lost in. Lush greenery and sprawling vistas decorate the majority of the scenes, and with careful filming, you get both a feeling of being lost in the vastness, as well as feeling drastically claustrophobic.
Scenes are shot in a very naturalistic way, with long takes that are left to play out in a very realistic manner – no excessive jump-cuts during action sequences, no crazy camera angles. This series isn’t scared to linger on a scene when it makes sense. Even though Gannibal has lots of supernatural elements, the foundations of it all are rooted in realism. The visual effects are a bit obvious on large scale scenes, like a bear attack, but also—to the trained eye—noticeable in the smaller details, like the leaves and dust overlays that appear when the tree falls in front of Daigo’s car. For the most part, however, the VFX are smoothly implemented and sparingly used.
Occasionally, the acting is either over-the-top or leaves something to be desired. For a town full of people leading double lives, the Gotos and all the residents of Kuge Village, don’t believe in subtlety; almost every single person in town acts like they have something to hide but blame it on being a tight-knit community (because that always explains why your elderly neighbor is stalking you). As a horror story, Gannibal isn’t quite as scary as it aims to be due to weaknesses in the writing. The villains are so unconvincing in their feigned innocence to the point that I expected something to go wrong most of the time. There’s no suspense, no build-up from safety to terror, and when things start strange, they continue to be strange and end strangely. As a viewer, being conscious of the danger just means there’s something in the script that’s distracting from the plot.
That said, Gannibal is a satisfying thriller, especially in the race-against-the-clock moments, such as when Daigo and his police unit uncover the cavern of missing children but can’t immediately rescue them. It’s appropriately gory: the depictions of cannibalism are explicitly detailed in conversation and seen on screen. Slasher fans and mystery fans alike will appreciate when the show focuses more on the cerebral aspects, which is when it really shines. Gannibal is at its best when it turns into a brutal puzzle that you can’t wait to solve.
Overall, Gannibal is an exciting, supernatural crime thriller that gets better with each episode. The discoveries we make along the way make it well worth the watch.
THE RATING – 3.5/5 Pocky
Elijah Isaiah Johnson is a writer/illustrator/animator. His most recently published works include the Amazon best-seller Nightmare Detective, Noir is the New Black, the Comixology Indie best-selling series Leaders of the Free World, The Formula and much more.