Demon City Shinjuku

Demons are weird.

The classic western take on the “demon” is that they’re damned souls or fallen angels– beings cursed to suffer eternally due to some slight against God. They either toil away in Hell, torturing other cast away souls, or they come into the world of the living to wreak havoc of some sort– be it outright physical violence, corruption, or what have you. There’s this assumption that damnation is something that freezes the soul into place. If you wronged god, sinned, or what have you, and it’s carried over into death, you cease to have regrets. You cannot grow as a person, or at least regret the decision that led to your inability to be close to God for eternity. Only the living can have what we’d call “character development,” and once you die, your “character” is sealed in stone.

You’re a demon, now and forever, and you’re gonna revel in rebelling against all that’s holy and good in existence.

I guess that’s natural if your metaphysical outlook on things assumes a one life, no reincarnation spiritual ultimatum. You’ve never personally seen anyone come back to life, or be reborn. You’ve never seen anyone get that second chance to atone, or at least to regret those decisions that you assume sent them to Hell. If that choice was a final one, and if that choice resulted in a permanent placement in the afterlife’s hierarchy, why would the soul continue to be able to make choices and change its attitudes?

But it’s weird, man. Not the assumption that there’s no reincarnation or anything, but the assumption that every aspect of a being’s essence becomes permanently fixed upon the death of the physical body. Going beyond assumptions of ” is there life after death,” if you buy into that concept, why would you then assume that the “you” doesn’t change after that point? Is it a wish of the living to know that their loved ones will continue being exactly the same after they depart? We want to see loved ones change and grow as they live, but we want that final, positive image of them to remain fixed for eternity? Is that not placing our wishes as those who are still alive over the wishes of those who are dead?

The dead– be they demons, angels, ghosts, or what have you, become just another “other” in most metaphysical takes. Their desires– or even the perception that they have desires– is no longer of consequence, even to those that believe that there’s life after death. You’re no longer a person who experiences things and reacts to a changing world. You’re simply dead– fixed in place according to the desires of those you left behind. If you have regrets, or wish to see the world of the living changed, you’re branded a demon, or a poltergeist, or whatever– something menacing the world and trying to ruin the lives of the living.

You no longer matter. You can’t matter. Even with eternity, death is final.

Which is to say, in a roundabout way, I like how movies like Demon City Shinjuku deal with demons. Demons are just a different sort of “people.” Yeah, they’re from Hell, but they aren’t fixed beings. Some want to see Hell brought to Earth, but that’s just them applying the same sort of object permanence on the living as the living do on the dead. “My rules must apply in both sides of the veil.”

Then you have sympathetic beings, such as the little girl spirit who just wants to find her “mother” and find some semblance of peace. The living see her as a menace, lashing out against those still here. Her suffering isn’t actually suffering, it’s just an enemy to defeat. But it takes a human willing to look past that and see her as something with the capacity to change that leads to that little girl spirit getting closure. Seeing her as yet another demon trying to eat or kill you makes her just that. Seeing her as being just as capable of growth as a human renders her the same as everyone else.

It’s an idea done better in Kawajiri’s previous movie, Wicked City, but there’s a bit of it going down in Shinjuku as well. Demons may be snake ladies with acid blood, or giant spiders who lay traps to eat unsuspecting humans, but they’re people too. If you can somehow get past the cannibalism and Apocalypse, maybe we can kinda get along somehow and not see each other as fixed objects.

But you always got some asshole trying to open a permanent portal to Hell. It’s hard to be understanding when that’s going down.

Yeah, the best bit in this movie is the aforementioned snake lady and the resulting fight in the bar. It’s a little brief, but it gets in some good imagery with its use of the pool table and the death-by-imbibing finale. It’s those sorts of scenes– freaky monsters using their cool skills– that really make Kawajiri’s movies worthwhile. Does anyone else really do that sort of animated “boss monster” this well?

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