Kaori ShimamuraKoutarou TanakaMiwaNatsuki Ozawa
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Atsushi Muroga
Keywords: horror, action, zombies, yakuza
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese, English
Actor: Nobuyuki Asano, Shu Ehara, Tate Gouta, Yuji Kishimoto, Miwa, Natsuki Ozawa, Kaori Shimamura, Koutarou Tanaka, Deborah Joy Vinall
Format: 83 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0273302/
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 7 October 2010
It's a cheesy Japanese action/horror film with zombies, soldiers and yakuza gun battles. It's proud to be low-rent, but within an extremely narrow range it's actually quite good at what it's doing.
Firstly, these are proper zombies. I have a theory that zombies don't really work in glossy-looking movies. However this is a cheap gut-muncher in which the cast is cannon fodder and falling to the undead hordes really does mean having your intestines pulled out and eaten. We see this in detail. There's gore. This film is positively old school, harking back to all those 1970s schlockers in the way it's happy to put in the time and effort in making sure we know exactly what zombies will do to you. I appreciated that. The result is that this to me felt like a proper zombie film, in a way I didn't get from Shaun of the Dead. They're slow. They're mindless. They might be around any corner. Obviously we're not talking about a highbrow achievement, but this could be just the film for anyone in a trashy mood who's found cinematic zombies getting a bit too Hollywood and mainstream in the past decade.
It's even sometimes a bit unnerving. I'd been assuming it was all going to be on the level of gun-toting yakuza hijinks, but I started thinking again when we hit the abandoned factory. That's a great location. Industrial, bleak and thoroughly unpleasant, it's the perfect backdrop for a director who's willing to take the time to do his zombie scenes properly. He also clearly knows the genre, with the False Scare By Cat for instance feeling to me like a traditionalist's homage. Admittedly the film got sillier and less scary towards the end, but even so the horror side of things is being done better than you'd expect.
I've now exhausted this film's non-ironic virtues. From now on, we're wading in cheese.
Firstly, a quick tonal scene-setting. The cheese levels aren't out of control. It's not doing the full Adam West, but it's not always a million miles away either. The first scene involves two English-speaking doctors injecting green fluid into a dead naked Japanese lady with big breasts. Needless to say, they haven't strapped her down or restrained her in any way, despite the fact that later in the film it's common knowledge among everyone even tangentially associated with their work that this method of resurrection produces flesh-eating monsters. One of their ex-colleagues even uses the word "zombie". She sits up and kills them. They're surprised. This is a masterpiece of an opening scene, clearly establishing the movie's tone and subject matter and also (more importantly) showing us naked breasts.
Next we have an American soldier bringing a message to a Japanese doctor who can theoretically (ahahaha) speak English. I couldn't understand him. Seriously, you couldn't even call him a language learner. Later in the film he'll say "where is the laboratory" and I'd defy anyone not to hear it as "lavatory". Anyway, he's also an amateurish ham, but you'll think he's Toshiro Mufune reincarnated as soon as you see him in a scene opposite Americans. Where did they find that army general? Did he wander on set by accident and get a script thrust in his hand? I presume they just went out on the streets, grabbed the first English-speakers they could find and asked them if they'd like to be film stars. However he has one remarkable virtue, in that the intellect-numbing effect of his performance will make you lose the ability to evaluate everyone else and you'll eventually decide that the Japanese-language acting is okay.
We also have a gang of thieves. They rob a jeweller's in exactly the right over-the-top way to say "cheesy" to the audience without actually turning the whole thing into a nonsense. I laughed at the scene where one of them gets stabbed in the foot, for instance. They're also cool and handsome, although the woman (Kaori Shimamura) looks kind of scary and the one with the stabbed foot has "I'm a jerk" dyed blonde hair.
The army's abandoned factory is where they've arranged a meeting to sell their loot to the yakuza. At one point they find a line of eight or ten corpses laid out on the floor, all wrapped in white sheets. (Hey, if you're a sinister Herbert West: Reanimator mad scientist, you need raw material.) This is good for a laugh too.
Things go bad, then the dead start getting involved and things turn really bad. Naked Buxom Zombie shows up and the audience cheer. She then turns out to be super-intelligent, nearly indestructible and capable of kung fu and Buffy the Vampire Slayer somersaults, not to mention having the ability to generate a virus to kill the U.S. Army's computer systems remotely by pressing a couple of keys on a keyboard. This is cool. She also finds a leather jacket. This is VERY BAD. She's actually one of the best characters in the movie, although that's not unlike discussing the relative taste merits of raw potatoes. We'll call her the Zombie Queen and I looked her up on imdb to see what other films she's been in. The actress's name is Miwa and apart from this she's been in two live-action Go Nagai adaptations: Sukeban Boy (2006) and Abashiri Family (2009). Ooooh, yes.
The criminals are scum. Okay, I realise that's a generically true statement, but it's also specifically the case here. I hope we're not meant to think they're cool. Apparently this film is a lot like a previous movie by the same writer/director called "Score", but with added zombies. However there's a scene where a gangster with a zombie lying on top of him uses his gun to shoot a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ZOMBIE, then only a few seconds later starts worrying about the one who's about to turn him into chunks. Similarly Kaori Shimamura gets a cool-looking scene where she runs towards the zombies firing guns double-handed, only to become a complete retard when she throws away the guns, finds herself surrounded and gets zombie-swamped.
You might have noticed that the U.S. Army are important players in this film. Naturally they're the ones responsible for the zombie-making experiments, because they're evil. They're also suffering budget and/or intellect deficiencies, because their climactic "seal off the zombie outbreak" mission only has one soldier on it. Our Japanese doctor insists on going along too, mind you. This means we have a low level of English throughout the movie, or in one case a very low level, but there's a reason for this. The movie's set in Okinawa. I enjoyed that. Okinawa's a group of hundreds of islands quite a long way south of the rest of Japan, with a more tropical climate and a big American base that's made itself highly unpopular over the decades since World War Two. Japan's done very well out of their mutual security treaty with America, but unfortunately since 1952 there have been about 200,000 accidents and crimes involving American soldiers in Okinawa, in which altogether more than a thousand Japanese civilians have died. Some of the more colourful incidents have included the gang rape of a twelve-year-old in 1995 and the death of a mother and her children in a vehicle accident. You can see how that wouldn't be popular.
Overall, this is not an intellectual film. It's not really defensible on traditional quality grounds, but on its chosen genre level it's actually rather effective. The horror's better than I expected, the zombies are old-school and it's always fun to see yakuza shooting each other. Also, breasts. If you're looking for artistic attainment, go elsewhere. However if you just want a laugh, you could do worse.