A man credited as The Artist has recently lost his pregnant wife to cancer and lives alone in his crampy, depressing crib somewhere in the urban jungle of Tokyo. The only thing left in his vacant life is his art painting and two gossiping neighbours living in the apartment under him. To keep his sanity and inspiration going he often visits the nearest sewer system, something which we artists all do. One day while visiting the sewer, he stumbles upon a young mermaid, whom he instantly gets attracted to. Who wouldn’t. He immediately starts to draw her before he takes her with him to his apartment where he puts her in the bathtub. And it’s all kawaii from here on with a cute love story which’ll make everyone’s heart melt. Uhm, well, not exactly.
Because there’s something really wrong and messed up with this mermaid, you see. The Artist tells us that there once was a river where the sewer system was built on, which the mermaid seems to have been stranded on. And it appears she’s been stranded too long in the sewer which has infected her, and her body starts to fall apart in very grotesque ways because of that. The Artist is anxiously optimistic though, and does whatever he can to nurture and save her.
And there’s only that much I can say without spoiling the whole thing given its one-hour runtime with an actual story to tell. This is also the second last film in the Guinea Pig series which steered completely away from the snuff/found footage-style of filmmaking to the traditional approach. We have the other films in the series which focused more on splatstick comedies filled with cringe kindergarten-level humor aimed for six-year olds, and no one seemed to take this seriously other than Hideshi Hino. In other words; Flower of Flesh and Blood and Mermaid in a Manhole are those two in the series that’s worth watching.
Like Flower of Flesh and Blood, it’s based on Hino’s manga with the same title, and open for any interpretation as it’s sprinkled with metaphors all over the place which will leave you down in the deepest mental rabbit hole, and lost far under any icebergs. On the surface level, the film works as a tragic and morbid body-horror love story with its plenty of gore, bodily fluids and lots of worms, projected from a deep psychotic feverdream by David Cronenberg – and is a perfect watch while enjoying sushi. Yum!
A box-set of the Guinea Pig series was released first time on DVD outside of Japan twenty plus years ago by Unearthed Films. It’s of course out-of-print and only available if you’re willing to pay an insane ridiculous fuck off-price. As much as I’m a supporter of physical media I can’t say with a good conscience that it’s worth it. Nope, sorry. They’re not on any streaming services, but all of the films are on YouTube and a playlist can be found on archive.org.
Writer and director: Hideshi Hino
Original title: Ginî piggu: Manhôru no naka no ningyo
Country & year: Japan, 1988
Actors: Shigeru Saiki, Mari Somei, Masami Hisamoto, Gô Rijû