Connect: a grisly offering from Takashi Miike that feels like the work of a modern-day media Frankenstein

The first South Korean TV series by the Japanese jack-of-all-genres is replete with tawdry themes and perverse ideas, suturing together elements from several dark predecessors to bring life to this unholy creation.

Jung Haein as Dongsoo in Connect (2022)

Ultra-prolific Japanese director Miike Takashi is a disruptor, frequently adopting a punkishly transgressive approach to genre. His latest offering, Connect, revisits the subversive motifs present in much of his other work: sadistic murders, gay mobsters, geysers of blood, hints at freakish sexuality, bizarre body horror. This isn’t the first time this big-screen auteur has worked in television: he has already directed episodes of the teen vampire show Tennen shôjo Man (1999), the dissociative-identity-disorder detective mystery MPD Psycho (2000) and the science-fiction fantasy Ultraman Max (2005), and contributed the controversial hour-long episode ‘Imprint’ to the Showtime anthology series Masters of Horror (2006). It may seem surprising that Connect is streaming on family platform Disney+, but the media giant has never been entirely immune to tawdry themes and perverse ideas – after all, it owned Miramax at the time that it was financing Quentin Tarantino, an avowed Miike fan. Connect is part of a trend, also exemplified by Robert Siegel’s Pam & Tommy (2022) and Craig Pearce’s Steve Jones biopic Pistol (2022), of Disney+ commissioning or showcasing series of a decidedly adult nature.

Connect opens with Ha Dongsoo (Jung Haein) walking down a dark urban alley, and looking up at the full moon, which he serenades with a song. this recalls the man who stares up at the moon at the beginning of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un chien andalou (1929), just before he slits a woman’s eye with a razor: indeed, Dongsoo 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 magically reassembles and he flees, leaving behind, in his haste, only his right eye. Not long afterwards Dongsoo will realise that he is able, when he hears that song, to see from the perspective of his missing eye’s recipient – and while Dongsoo’s efforts to locate this man, Oh Jinseop (Ko Kyungpyo), may start as a quest to recover his own eye, he soon realises that Jinseop 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 Roiha), whose intuitions may arise from his Shamanic ancestry – are after Dongsoo, while a mysterious figure named Choi Irang (Kim Hyejun) 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,” Irang will tell Dongsoo, “Connect is the neo-human.” In this series, ‘Connect’ is the term used for ‘monsters’ like Dongsoo 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 Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), John Woo’s Face/Off (1997), the Pang brothers’ 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. Here all these parts recombine to forge new narrative constellations that may be the result of pure coincidence or, as the astrology-obsessed Jinseop speculates about unspooling events, a grander design.

At its heart, this is the story of two different monsters: one who desperately seeks immortality through his perverted 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. Meanwhile, Jinseop’s grotesque art reflects Miike’s own, with this Japanese Frankenstein and his monster creating spectacles of corporeal horror.

Connect is available to stream on Disney+ now.