Connect first published by Sight and Sound, March 2023
Review: Ultra-prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike is also a disruptor, with the titles on his extraordinarily lengthy filmography typically adopting a punkishly transgressive approach to genre. So if his latest offering, Connect, comes as something of a surprise, this is not because of its subversive motifs – sadistic murders, gay mobsters, geysers of blood, hints at freakish sexuality, bizarre body horror – already present if not quite correct in much of his other work. Nor is its status as a (six-part, so far) television series, given that he has already helmed for TV the teen vampire show Tennen shôjo Man (1999), the Dissociative Identity Disorder detective mystery MPD Psycho (2000) and the tokusatsu Ultraman Max (2005), and has contributed individual episodes to many others, including his controversial entry Imprint for the Showtime anthology Masters of Horror (2006). The real surprise here, though, is the association of Miike with family platform Disney+. Not that Disney has been entirely immune to tawdry themes and perverse ideas – after all, their subsidiary Miramax once financed Quentin Tarantino (himself an avowed Miike fan) – but Connect falls in with a new trend, also exemplified by Robert Siegel’s Pam & Tommy (2022) and Craig Pearce’s Pistol (2022), of commissioning series with more adult materials.
Adapted from a Korean webtoon and shot in Korea with a Korean cast, Connect opens with Ha Dong-soo (Jung Ha-ein) walking in a dark urban alley, and looking up at the full moon. If this recalls a woman’s similar moon-focused gesture at the beginning of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), then Dong-soo too is about to lose his eye to a blade, leading to all manner of surreal escapades. For no sooner is our hero abducted from the street by a gang of organ harvesters and sliced open by a black-market surgeon who cuts out both of his eyes and his insides too, than his body will magically reassemble and he, revived, will flee, leaving behind, in his haste, a single eye. Not long afterwards Dong-soo will realise that he is occasionally able to see from the perspective of his missing eye’s recipient – and while Dong-soo’s efforts to locate this man, Oh Jin-seop (Ko Kyung-pyo), may start as a quest to recover his own eye, he soon realises that Jin-seop is the serial killer who has been leaving corpses in artistic tableaux all over Seoul. In the meantime, both the organ-hunting gang and the police – including sharp-witted Detective Choi (Kim Roi-ha), whose intuitions may arise from his Shamanic ancestry – are after Dong-soo, while the mysterious Choi I-rang (Kim Hye-jun) keeps intervening to help him, and a pharmaceuticals corporation lurks in the shadows.
“A new type of human, born as the freak of the century,” I-rang will tell Dong-soo. “Connect is the neo-human.” In this series, ‘Connect’ is the term used for ‘monsters’ like Dong-soo whose miraculous regenerative powers make them immortal – but the word has broader resonances in a series which connects different genres (serial killer thriller, gangster flick, police procedural, mutant superheroics) into a monstrous hybrid. For like a modern-day Frankenstein, Miike is suturing together elements from Irvin Kershner’s The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), John Woo’s Face/Off (1997), the Pang brother’s The Eye (2002), David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built (2018) and Park Hoonjung’s The Witch: Part 2 – The Other One (2022), while drawing heavily on his own epic period fantasy Blade of the Immortal (2017), which also featured a hero whose injuries would quickly heal. Miike’s recombination of these parts forges new narrative constellations that appear to be pure coincidence, but that astrology-obsessed Jin-seop certainly perceives as part of a grander design.
At its heart, this is the story of two different monsters: one who desperately seeks immortality through art, and another who has had a more literal immortality thrust upon him. As these two eyeball one another, each desiring something that the other already has, Miike draws out their contrasts while also occasionally, uncomfortably highlighting their similarities. The dialectic that emerges between a working-class milquetoast who just wants to fit in, and a white-collar narcissist who wants the world to bend to his perverse will, paradoxically exposes twinned perspectives from the same eye, as these men’s conjoined fates bring consequences that are not just personal but political in purview. Meanwhile Jin-seop’s grotesque art reflects Miike’s own, as both create spectacles of horror from the body.
Synopsis: Seoul, present day. When organ hunters take immortal Dong-soo’s eye, he can at times see the perspective of its recipient, the ‘corpse art’ serial killer Jin-seop. As Dong-soo pursues Jin-seop, he is himself pursued by police and gangsters, and occasionally helped by the mysterious I-rang.
strap: Takashi Miike’s live-action metahuman series brings sadistic serial killings, freakish sexuality and bizarre body horror to Disney
Sidebar: Miike TV
Both adapted from Tetsuya Koshiba’s manga, these serialised telemovies pit hard-kicking Shibuya schoolgirl Man (Jun Matsuda) respectively against various rape-happy crime gangs and an exploitative fashion agency, and then – improbably – against a winged vampire. There are plenty of fights, the odd song, and near nonsensical layers of plotting – but the filmmaking itself is lacklustre by Miike’s usual standards, with a bland ‘TV soap’ look.
Human flower pots. Barcodes tattooed onto eyeballs. Numbered body parts. Serial killers and baby stealers. These are just some of the elements that bizarrely combine in Miike’s six-part live-action adaptation of Eiji Ōtsuka’ manga, as a detective with Dissociative Identity Disorder investigates surreal scenarios that come ever closer to his own trauma. Miike’s nightmarishly Lynchian approach to genre destabilises the tropes of TV crime drama.
A journalist (Billy Drago) comes to an island brothel in Japan looking for the local woman he promised to bring back with him to America, but hears only conflicting if consistently harrowing stories about her fate from a peculiar, perhaps inhuman, slit-mouthed prostitute (Youki Kudoh). Initially shelved for its graphic content (abuse, abortion), this disturbing kaidan (ghost story) unravels an involuted, infernal tale of torturous guilt.