Nonoka OnozombiesJapanese
School-Live! (2019 live-action film)
Also known as: Gakkou Gurashi (2019 live-action film)
Medium: film
Year: 2019
Writer/director: Issei Shibata
Original creator: Norimitsu Kaiho, Sadoru Chiba
Actor: Nanami Abe, Daichi Kaneko, Rio Kiyohara, Wakana Majima, Midori Nagatsuki, Nonoka Ono
Keywords: horror, zombies
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 105 minutes
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 3 August 2019
gakkou gurashi
Gakkou Gurashi (aka. School-Live!) is an ongoing manga, currently on 11 volumes. (I haven't read it yet, but I'm thinking about it and it's on my list. I'll probably wait for it to finish first.)
It's also a 12-episode 2015 anime series that I liked a lot. When I heard that it was also going to be a live-action movie, I couldn't wait. For months, I've been checking to see if the film was available yet. Now, at last, I've got my hands on it. I prefer the anime, but they're very different and both are interesting.
THE 2015 ANIME is two genres at once. 1. It's a jolly, funny anime about cute girls doing cute things. It has big-eyed cartoon characters with unnatural hair colours (pink, purple, etc.) It also has a bouncy theme song that is, seriously, one of the anime's two big advantages over this movie. 2. It's a zombie apocalypse where the girls are struggling with mental illness and could die at any moment.
This is an interesting genre mash-up. It's also not particularly scary, because animation just isn't. Your brain knows it's not real. You're looking at hand-drawn pictures (and cartoonish ones at that).
THE 2019 FILM, on the other hand, is more constrained by realism. It's live-action. That's inevitable. It's also doing interesting things with fantasy, ghosts and subjective reality, but at the end of the day it's a film with actors, sets and probably a fairly low budget. It can't do the anime's genre-mashing, so the girls' more light-hearted activities merely look like an attempt at staying sane. It doesn't feel cheap, but it does feel grounded. What you see is what you get. What's on-screen is what happened for the cameras. Apart from some (reasonably good) CGI flames, you don't sense artifice. (There isn't even any juicy human-on-zombie violence. Shovels and crowbars are employed freely, but we're never shown a severed or crushed head.)
That minimalism helps the believability. It feels real. It's a lot scarier than the anime. You react more when a real zombie's trying to bite a real girl. Also, importantly, our heroines don't fit. They're schoolgirls. Before the apocalypse, they were falling comedically off their bikes, having crushes on boys and bunking off class in the school infirmary. It's amazing that they're still alive. Admittedly Kurumi's good at wielding a shovel, but Yuuri's baseball bat might as well be a tickling stick and everything's still normal in the World According To Yuki.
Ah, yes, Yuki. She can't see the zombies. She thinks she's still surrounded by her old friends and classmates, not seeming to realise that they're all grey and shambling. (Some of them are outside. Others are locked up in classrooms and will thump on the doors if they hear you.)
The film's about that gap, I think. Scenes and even people can turn out to have been delusions. Are the girls insane? Are they doing it deliberately to keep going? (Or both?) You'll think they're losing it... but eventually you'll start wondering if ghosts are real and the dead (or undead) really do wish them well and want to protect them.
The cast are fine, by the way. They're from the idol group Last Idol, although that hardly narrows things down since they've had at least sixty members. Rio Kiyohara (as Miki) is probably the weakest and I'd have liked to see Midori Nagatsuki being bolder, bigger and funnier in the key rule of Yuki, but they're good by the standards of Japanese idol actors. They carry the film. They don't break their scenes, while also being convincing as their characters' ages.
Interestingly, the film doesn't go beyond the anime, even though it was made four years later and had much more of the original manga to adapt. They both end on graduation. (Makes sense.) That said, the two endings are different. The anime has Yuki playing the end of school chimes and telling all the zombies to go home for the day, which is the other thing I love in the anime that this film lacks. (They could have done it. It would have worked, given their zombies' established sensitivity to sound.) We've also lost Taroumaru the dog, although admittedly the anime had expanded on his fairly small manga role.
Instead, the film has a callback to that subjective ghost-or-not thing. That was startling, but also warm. There's an emotional putting-to-rest. (I won't say "kill".) It works.
I liked this film. It's completely and utterly a zombie film, though, once you're past the first fifteen minutes. The anime I could imagine recommending to someone who hated zombie films, but that would be unthinkable here. If you hate that genre, avoid this film. It's ticking all the boxes. That said, though, it's also hitting unusually gentle, interesting emotional beats in its desperately bleak genre. Its heroines are fighting back against the bleakness.
"Miki, your future is bright!"
"Exactly how is it bright?"
(pause) "...anyway, it's bright!"