Arata FurutaMasaki MiuraMaria TakagiErika Okuda
Tokyo Zombie
Medium: film
Year: 2005
Director: Sakichi Sato
Writer: Sakichi Sato, Yusaku Hanakuma
Keywords: horror, comedy, zombies
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Tadanobu Asano, Sho Aikawa, Erika Okuda, Arata Furuta, Hina Matsuoka, Satoshi Hashimoto, Kazuya Kakuta, Takuya Kakuta, Masaki Miura, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Yasuhi Nakamura, Harumi Sone, Maria Takagi, Mitsuki Tanimura, Kazuo Umezu
Format: 107 minutes
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 26 July 2010
I was sure this was a movie vehicle for a TV comedian double act. It has that feel. It's TV budget without being straight-to-video, it's all over the shop tonally and it's got silly and vaguely annoying pseudo-comedy that reminded me of a sketch show.
I was wrong, but not by much. It's actually an adaptation of Japanese manga, which like Dasepo Naughty Girls I suspect worked far better on the page. The film feels incoherent, but in a way that I can imagine might have worked in the manga. I suppose you'd call it a zombie comedy. On the "proper movie" side of things, you've got old-school flesh-eating zombies who eat a good few people and get a couple of mildly nasty moments, plus a story that in some ways gets oddly unpleasant and downbeat in the second half. Certainly there's nothing funny about the woman they meet. She's cold, brutal, foul-mouthed and one of the main reasons why life sucks after a zombie apocalypse. However at the same time, lots of the characters and situations are silly or unsettling enough to make it feel... um, something. I didn't find it funny, but you can't pretend it's a straight drama either. You've got Japanese loser heroes who love ju-jitsu and have bizarre hairstyles: an afro and a samurai-like bald head. You've got a scary-looking villain who just wants to drink lots of calpis (which, to be fair, tastes quite nice). You've got silly scenes like a woman kicking her complaining mother-in-law's head off.
Then you've got the perverts, e.g. the paedophile school teacher and the old man who tries to look up a girl's skirt. Don't ask me what they're doing there. Manga can create a heightened reality in which everything's over-the-top and excess becomes the whole point, but this film isn't anywhere near that point and so the silly stuff just undermines the serious stuff and it all becomes a bit of a mess.
I recognised some of the names involved. The writer-director is Sakichi Sato, who wrote Ichi the Killer and 1-Ichi. Yowzers. Takashi Miike could have made this story work. As for the actors I'd thought were a TV double-act, they're actually quite well-known actors who also have a long-standing association with Miike, Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa. The former was Kakihara in Ichi the Killer, for goodness sakes, making him possibly the most iconic psycho in Asian cinema. I'd actually been assuming the guy wasn't even an actor since he's generally just wandering around deadpan without reacting to stuff, but presumably that was a characterisation choice he'd made for this role. It's not unreasonable. They're playing idiots whose mental processes rarely stretch beyond ju-jitsu, so why not? If anything, I'm tempted to suggest that the main problem with the casting of Asano is that he's a very precise, truthful actor and so maybe he's helping to ground the movie when it needed to be more flamboyant.
I suppose I'd have to say that they're good in their roles. After all, there are lots of annoying directions you could take protagonists like these, but Asano and Aikawa always manage to stay watchable and likeable.
It's not a particularly impressive zombie film, even though they're not doing much wrong with them. One gets a sense of budgetary restrictions rather than apocalypse. There's no real attempt at creating atmosphere, either with claustrophobia or "28 Days Later" style agoraphobia. It's just "oh look, some zombies". Admittedly there's gore and enough killing near the beginning to make these zombies seem a bit more effective than the ones in Shaun of the Dead, but there's also cartoonish stuff like the annoying patrons at the wrestling arena and the way Aikawa can fight his way through the undead like Superman.
There are some nice ideas, though. The squeezy power plants are a throwaway detail I'd never seen before, while the Thunderdome-style city of the annoying rich isn't ripping off George A. Romero's Land of the Dead because both films came out in 2005. It's not even plagiarising Shaun of the Dead (2004) because its original manga was written in 1999, although I should think the success of the Wright-Pegg-Frost film helped get it greenlit. The similarities are striking, but only theoretically. Both are zom-coms about two male loser best friends with dead-end jobs, but Shaun never really struck me as horror. It's comedy in a horror setting. Tokyo Zombie on the other hand actually strikes me as coming closer to being a classical zombie film, even though it's goofier, cheaper and in every way far less accomplished.
Overall, far from great. There's some good stuff, with a cool ending to Aikawa's story and the odd moment that made me laugh, but there's also a bunch of stupid stuff that only annoyed me. The zombie pro-wrestling struck me as ridiculous, while the loathsome rich patrons in the gallery were too cartoonish. I was also irritated by the calpis-loving hard man. It's even depressing when we reach all that fighting in front of the little girl, although I suppose you've got to respect the way they're prepared to push their story that far. In fairness it's a long, long way from being the world's worst zombie film, but by now I think that's a target that's no longer attainable by human effort. You'd need to do a deal with Satan or something. I didn't hate this film, but I didn't really like it either. I wouldn't mind checking out the manga, but as a movie I think it basically doesn't come together.