Yes, it's Japanese. I've found yet more straight-to-DVD trash that's going to destroy more of my brain cells, right?
No, actually, I haven't. Mind you, it's an understandable mistake. That's what I'd been expecting and that seems to be the level on which most of its fans watch it. Most of the reviews I've found think it's either: (a) a campy gore flick that's good for big laughs if you've checked your brain in at the door, or else (b) just too silly and eventually a mess. What's more, I can understand that. On the surface, that's what it looks like. It's got spectacular gore effects, a lurid title and an army of flesh-eating zombie schoolgirls. It namechecks George A. Romero and Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead.
If you're looking for drunken late-night entertainment, it's a good bet and lots of retards are going to love it. On that mindless level it works, although even the one-track gorehounds will notice that it's not quite a regular zombie movie.
In fact it's far more than that. Its real title is just Stacy and it's based on a novel by Seiun Award-winning writer, Kenji Ohtsuki. ("Seiun" means "Nebula" and you can think of it as Japan's equivalent of the Nebula Awards, but the similarity of names is just a coincidence.) In addition, Ohtsuki's also a rock musician and this film uses his music too. This is a complicated, thematically rich and deeply wrong work... however hardly anyone seems to have noticed because it's also a silly gore film with zombie schoolgirls.
Firstly, the plot and worldbuilding. For the past ten years, the undead have been part of everyday life. Civilisation didn't end. On the contrary, things seem to be more or less okay, except that society has had to address a few new issues. You see, for a decade, teenage girls have been dying and coming back as flesh-eating zombies called Stacy. This is normal. It's the status quo. Laws have even been passed about it, stating who's permitted to kill a Stacy and banning assorted change-inhibiting drugs. There are TV adverts for the latest chainsaws. Government experts go on TV to explain why their gross, disturbing research is improving their knowledge of Stacification. Now this isn't really satirical, unlike the similar material in, say, Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop, but it did strike me as both unique and a bit subversive. The government expert is no way a reassuring figure and those aforementioned laws stank to me of government control-freakery rather than any desire to save lives. I'm sure it's possible to think up reasons why those laws might be necessary, but my first reaction to all of them was "that's going to get people killed."
Furthermore there are Romero Repeat-Kill Troops, licenced to go around in riot gear and use lethal force. They're thugs. They also have all kinds of emotional and mental problems.
None of that was the satirical bit, though. The satire comes with the girls themselves. You see, before zombifying, they undergo something called Near Death Happiness. This involves euphoria, giggling a lot, wearing frilly clothes and basically acting like the Japanese media stereotype of cute teenagers. All those bimbo pop idols who are supposedly the epitome of femininity? According to this film, they're a few hours away from brain death and trying to bite out your throat. What's more, there's also something called Butterfly Sparkle Powder, which is what causes Stacification and can make the girls glow like J-pop girls in a TV advert.
So that's three completely different levels on which this film is working. Well, here comes a fourth. This is the mind-destroying one. Start looking at the themes of this film and you'll get your brains dribbling into your lap. You see, the Stacies are driven by love. Before transforming, the thing they want most is to be re-killed by someone who loves them. After transforming, love is what motivates their cannibalism. It's not obvious to me how murder can equate to love, but that's the theme of this movie. Whether you're killing a Stacy or being killed by one, this is apparently a purer expression of love than all the other broken love-substitutes we see in the film (e.g. empty sex among the Romero Repeat-Kill Troops). Maybe it's a condemnation of media fetishisation that portrays girls as dehumanised fantasy figures? Or on the other hand, maybe it's just a terrifyingly deranged Japanese film going off the deep end? I have no clue. I love it, though. You could try to wrap your brain around this one for years.
Furthermore, if you really wanted, you could impose a reading on this film that would suggest locking up the entire country. At its heart is a tragic love story, in which Natsuki Kato (with only a day or two left) finds a socially inept man and decides to make him her re-killer. Now in fairness the film doesn't go so far as to make him an anime-fixated otaku, but he's still bad at relating to other people and his hobby is puppet-making. This quasi-paedophilic relationship is sweet and the guy himself is both guileless and a bit of an innocent... but at the end of the day, we're still talking about a man who's struggling with his feelings for a schoolgirl, eventually confesses his love for her and then shortly afterwards has to murder her and dispose of the corpse.
There's also a serial killer of little girls who gets forgiven by the ghosts of his victims, because they love him for it.
Four levels. All wildly different. All coexisting in this mad, delicious film. Then on top of that, there's the fact that it's rather well done. The actual scenes that comprise the film are liable to go in far more interesting directions than you'd expect of this genre, with characters who have inner lives. It's thoughtful. Those three children at the beginning are too stupid to live, so much so in fact that I have trouble believing that the scene could have happened, but listen to their dialogue. They're setting up the theme. Then there's the fact that Natsuki Kato manages to do more than you'd expect with her character's Near Death Happiness, even though it theoretically should have made me want to beat out her brains myself.
On the other hand, the gore's brilliant. The film's not really trying to be scary, although it's disturbing as hell in Yasutaka Tsutsui's laboratory, but it's got some bravura gore effects.
Even for Japan, this film is messed up. What'll drive you insane if you start thinking about it is the question of how and to what extent this is deliberately commenting on Japanese society. It's got an ending that suggests the world will become perfect when men are allowed to love dead teenage schoolgirls. It's saying that murder is how we express our love. It's got severed arms holding hands and a trio of killer-for-hire Japanese Drew Barrymores. It's got no nudity, but you can't have everything. Is it a horror-comedy? Maybe, if you're not thinking too hard about it. However if you are, then you'll start seeing thematic resonance in things like the dying declaration of homosexual love between those two Romero Repeat-Kill Troopers. This film is clever, silly, funny, sweet, stomach-turning and thematically the richest, most fucked-up zombie movie of all time. It's awesome.
"It would be easier for me if I could cry."