Content Warning: Homunculus contains a scene of sexual assault.
Homunculus is a Netflix Original sci-fi movie. Susumu Nokoshi is an amnesiac currently living out of his car. One day he is approached by a mysterious man named Ito with a proposition to undergo a medical procedure. Not fully realizing what the procedure entails for him, Nokoshi agrees. His life will never be the same.
It has been said that all people wear masks. That we hide pieces of ourselves from those around us. We can even bury our pains so deeply that we don’t even see them ourselves anymore. But what if someone could? If they could peer into our true selves and see the trauma we carry around. What would it mean to us when that person lays our souls bare to us? What would it do to the person doing the seeing?
Homunculus sets out to explore the above questions utilizing trippy visuals and dark character moments. Through Nokoshi’s experiences, the movie looks at how trauma can affect us long after we stop being conscious of its presence. But perhaps even more interesting is what it suggests can happen to those who help us through these traumas.
When the Homunculus opens, Nokoshi is drifting through his life with little emotional attachment to anything. He seems all but incapable of feeling or caring about anything. So when Ito approaches him about undergoing a medical procedure that involves drilling a hole in his forehead he agrees far easier than one would expect. So much so that he fails to even learn what Ito’s goals for the experiment are till after the procedure is complete.
The ramifications of this procedure are what Homunculus spends the bulk of its nearly two-hour run time exploring. Due to the operation, whenever Nokoshi looks at people through only his left eye he sees the hidden trauma they carry with them. His discovery of this new ability leads him to a difficult run-in with a Yakuza boss, as well as an unfortunate scene with a high school girl.
As he explores the strange representations of the trauma he sees in others he ultimately comes to help them with their pain. Though these actions begin to impact Nokoshi unexpectedly. I won’t spoil how, but it was this aspect of Homunculus’s narrative I found the most fascinating.
While there are several interesting sequences in Homunculus, there is a lot of slow downtime between these moments. With Nokoshi lacking emotions, the character struggles to carry the film between his encounters with other people’s traumas for most of the film. Only in the final act does his personality finally come out and deliver. While this finale couldn’t exist without the preceding setup, it nevertheless makes the first two-thirds of the movie a struggle at times.
The only other character who has a substantial amount of screen time here is Ito. While the character tries to come across as a strange enigma sort of personality, he feels extremely familiar. The eccentric personality the character leans into is one I’ve run across repeatedly in my forays into Japanese media.
As Homunculus draws towards its ending, the narrative takes a surprising turn. This turn helps send the movie off well, as it comes to be the high point of the movie. Though I don’t think it’s quite enough to fully save this film from its slower stretches early on.
The visual design Homunculus utilizes to present the trauma observed by Nokoshi is excellently utilized. The overall quality of the visuals is impressive. They generally look good in and of themselves, as well as looking natural in how they interact with the larger scene. This fluid interactivity gives these moments a sense of realness. Despite how truly bizarre some of the visions Nokoshi views are.
When all is said and done, Homunculus delivers an interesting premise that I think makes some solid observations about trauma, how it can linger longer than we realize, and what the costs of dealing with it can be. Unfortunately, an overly slow plot pace and a moment of questionable subject matter come to mare the experience.
Homunculus is streaming now on Netflix.
Homunculus delivers an interesting premise that I think makes some solid observations about trauma, how it can linger longer than we realize, and what the costs of dealing with it can be. Unfortunately, an overly slow plot pace and a moment of questionable subject matter come to mare the experience.