Naoyuki TomomatsuzombiesJapaneseMihiro
Zombie Self-Defense Force
Also known as: Zombie jieitai
Medium: film
Year: 2006
Director: Naoyuki Tomomatsu
Writer: Naoyuki Tomomatsu, Chisato Ogawara
Keywords: horror, zombies
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Kenji Arai, Norman England, Masayuki Hase, Yu Machimura, Mihiro, Eriko Nagamine, Shun Saeki, Yuya Takayama, Masayoshi Tomomatsu, Arufa Uchida, Miyu Watase, Jun Yamasaki, Kiyo Yoshizawa, Hisakatsu Oya
Format: 75 minutes
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 13 February 2016
It starts out almost unwatchably bad, unless you're a fan of stupid, micro-budget films that look like a few friends having a laugh in the woods with a video camera. After a while, though, it improves. It never stops being cheap nonsense, but at least it's having fun with that. Then the last act is special.
It begins, surreally but importantly, with a hyper-nationalist voice-over. This tells us:
(a) how it's perfectly okay, nay, mandatory, for Japan's Prime Minister to visit Yasukuni Shrine (and its war criminals).
(b) how there was nothing wrong with Japan's actions in World War Two, which in fact were an inspiration to other Asian countries.
(c) how America (unlike Japan) are warmongers and mass murderers.
(d) how it's wrong for Japan to send its Self-Defence Force soldiers to Iraq, which is actually reasonable except that they were constitutionally barred from fighting and hence in practice were unusually well-armed car park attendants. Japan doesn't have a military. Article 9 of its constitution prohibits it. Instead it has a self-defence force, which in fairness would be a minimum requirement for any country within spitting distance of North Korea. (The film will include a small squad of these soldiers, who'll be doing exercises in the woods when the zombies show up.)
(e) how George Romero is a genius.
What the hell? (I'm not objecting to that last one, obviously.) Fortunately, though, this isn't just random offensiveness, but instead something that the film's planning to build itself around and take to ludicrously parodic levels in the finale. Yes, that's right. This film is actually about something. There's going to be a lot of zombie nonsense en route, but I really liked that. Silly? Hell, yes. I laughed and laughed at the cameo extraterrestrial, but I think it's really cool that Naoyuki Tomomatsu is taking the piss out of offensive uber-nationalism so hard and so outrageously. It's dialled up to eleven.
Back to the beginning, though! It begins with a UFO flying over Mount Fuji. Locals gawp at it, then it crashes in a blast of green energy that's actually explaining what most zombie films leave unexplained. Alien radiation makes zombies! We also meet lots of victims-to-be in vignettes that look painfully amateurish. These all take place either in: (a) the woods, or (b) a hotel that for some unexplained reason has plastic sheeting on the floors and a gun lying conveniently to hand. Guess where the director's going to be shooting some gore scenes!
The yakuza are eye-rolling. The married man who's having a tough time with his mistress is pretty bad too. The soldiers are passable. The fashion shoot is actually okay, especially since it soon transpires that the model they're shooting (Mihiro) is a massive bitch who'll push a would-be rescuer into the path of oncoming zombies.
The only thing that's good about these early scenes is the gore. It's not scary or anything, but at least it's enthusiastic. The general tone is light-hearted cheap trash that knows it's silly. Occasionally there are comedy sound effects. One of the goofiest and most entertaining things here will be a zombie foetus that's mysteriously grown to the size of a newborn baby and can fly around ninja-style. Characters can pull out samurai swords that you know they hadn't been carrying.
You're not meant to be taking this seriously. What's more, sometimes it does manage to be amusing. Deliberate excess can indeed be funny.
The characters get more entertaining once they're interacting. All those little vignettes get zombie-nuked and soon all the survivors are stuck together in that hotel. Mihiro develops a habit of glomping on to whatever man takes her fancy and promising him her body if he'll protect her. She'll even do this in front of the last man in the queue. That causes tension. She also appears to hate other women on principle, causing her hairdresser's death and then getting her claws out for Miyu Watase, the only female member of the Self-Defence Force squad.
The innkeeper has the film's only tense scene (when he keeps trying to shut the eyes of a corpse who's about to come alive) and he delivers one truly unbelievable description of his mistress when pretending that nothing's wrong to the soldiers. Meanwhile Watase will occasionally have weird flashbacks and memory issues. In a film that contains some intensely unsympathetic female characters, Watase at least is the coolest, most competent one of the soldiers. (There's a reason for this. Brace yourself for a silly revelation.) Oh, and one of her fellow grunts likes discussing some World War Two general who committed hari-kiri in the woods and is still out there somewhere, undoubtedly waiting to come back as a zombie.
I quite like the zombies themselves. Naoyuki Tomomatsu maintains their characterisation, so a gangster zombie can use a gun, a zombie soldier will salute and a zombie hairdresser will be combing your hair and using her hair spray. Also, more unusually, these undead are immortal. You can shoot them in the head and they'll fall down as you'd expect, but then a few scenes later they'll be up again and trying to eat you. That's not even a continuity error! It's deliberate. Look out for the shot of three wriggling zombies who've been killed, tied up and dragged into a back room.
The second most interesting thing about this film (after its finale) is its director. Naoyuki Tomomatsu has shot lots of porn, but also quite a few films that are horror-related and frequently silly, but at the same time better than average for the Japan Schlock genre they get lumped into. Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies is a genuinely good film. Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl is hilarious and brilliant. Have I watched Erotibot yet? I lose track of all these... no, not yet. I know I haven't started on his five-film Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead series, though. (Apparently they're less offensive than the title suggests, but that's not saying much.) This is a weaker, sillier film than I'd have hoped for from Tomomatsu, but at least it knows that and is doing it deliberately. Besides, the finale won me over.
Quite often Tomomatsu's non-porn films include porn stars, incidentally. That's the case here with Mihiro, but as it happens she's one of the better actors here. That said, though, the film isn't sleazy. This might be a surprise, but it's not. You'll see absolutely no tits. That said, though, I've seen it released in a three-pack with Zombie Hunter Rika and Attack Girls' Swim Team Versus the Undead, which are less restrained in that direction.
Is this a good film? Not by any normal standards. The acting alone will damn it beyond redemption, even if most of the actors are actually okay. The squad captain's gasp of shock, for instance, would look bad in a school play. However if you manage to make it through the first twenty minutes (which nearly defeated even me), you'll find that it's a film of three parts. Part 1 is far worse even than you were assuming from the title. Part 2 is low-rent but okay. There's some entertainment to be found in the film's energy, enthusiasm and utter lack of shame. I like Mihiro's character, for instance. Part 3, though, is kind of awesome, albeit in a way that will look like an even sillier waste of time to someone who doesn't care about Japanese politics and historical revisionism.
"There's nothing better than shooting up some heroin after killing someone!"