Zombies have contributed to film enjoyment almost as much as vampires and werewolves--witches and monsters in the horror genre. Hell, they've even a good run in comedic satirical misadventures in "Shaun of the Dead" and "Fido", even Thailand had a go at it with "Bangkok Zombie Crisis" and Japan‘s own "Wild Zero". Heck, I guess it is Japan's turn once again to create another zombie comedic spoof. "TOKYO ZOMBIE" is based on the manga by "U-saku Hanakuma" and has been remade and directed for the screen by cult director Sakichi Sato. Yes, the film is another "ssooo bad, that it is good" entry in the annals of Japanese cinema.
"Black Fuji" is a man-made mound that is located in the outskirts of Tokyo; it is full of junk, trash, poisons, and even dead bodies. (much like "smokey mountain" in the Philippines) In a fire extinguisher plant, Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) and his mentor, Mecchan (Sho Aikawa) practices the moves of jiu-jitsu to entertain themselves and to attain "spiritual fulfillment" and they are unaware of the dangerous occurrences nearby--Tokyo is being overrun by zombies due to the mixing of poisons and human flesh in "Black Fuji". The two are on the run and they run across an ill-mannered young woman called Youko (Erika Okuda). This leads to tragedy, and we fast-forward 5 years in the future.
Because of Tokyo being overrun, the rich have established themselves as the ruling party of the Japan with the poor as their slaves. They use them to generate electricity and to provide them food. The poor has a chance to be accepted in this elite class though, women can become prostitutes and physically capable men can compete in a ring against zombies to provide entertainment for the wealthy. Fujio's jiu-jitsu skills is being put to good use, that is until he has to fight a "super-zombie".
Granted, this movie isn't going to win any awards with its mild violence, dumbed down visual effects and humor that feels a little geared towards those used to Asian humor. The film's first half focuses on Fujio and Macchan's relationship, their petty squabbles, and rude behavior. The film also has a bit of eco-disaster commentary as to how we manage our planet, our wastes and our trash. I thought the manner of which human life is taken fore granted and murder seems pretty routine in this world created by the director says a lot of today's current events. The film has a dark tone in its humor as we see citizens burying folks they've killed (luscious Maria Takagi makes a cameo) and even hints of child abuse were fairly visible to the viewer. Count on the Japanese to blend in a powerful social commentary in a horror-comedy.
The second half of the film is heralded by an animated short that at first gives us the hint of a change of pace, but it was just the vanguard for the film's next act about social status. I guess director Sato thought it best to add certain hints of George Romero's "Land of the Dead" (the high-rise building), "Fight Club" (zombie fights) and even "the Running Man"(hunger for entertainment) in its narrative. The rich takes full advantage of the unfortunate as they use their slaves to produce "grip electricity" (I don't know its logic), and to provide entertainment. Fujio is a man using the means he only knows (his fists) to provide for Yoko (the woman they encountered in the 1st act) and a small child named Fumiyo (Hina Matsuoka). Yoko is a little abusive (but good-looking) and wants Fujio to entertain the pig-like women in the audience so they can have a decent apartment in the high-rise structure of the rich. Fujio just wants to pay tribute to his mentor, Macchan for teaching him the art of Jiu-Jitsu. I suppose a clash between principle and immediate need is being reflected upon by Sato in the sequences.
The chemistry between Asano and Aikawa is truly the film's major selling point--they characters are eccentric and bizarre--complete with an afro hair-do and a bald head that looks like a dick. Their humorous exchanges do provide for good entertainment. Aikawa's character Macchan is the type of person who is easily fooled by his own perceptions. Hey, the film does have some complex sequences of jiu-jitsu and I was pleasantly surprised in the way they were shot. The film's cinematography has that "whatever" feel, director Sato does have a talent for visual flair; from the mild CGI, animated short, and deadpan finesse. But I was a little confused whether it wanted to be comical since it has a strong dark tone, or it wanted to be horrific, the blood and gore is pretty toned down--the shameless prattling just kills its attempts at a horror comedy. (How come they used the word ‘retard' too much?)
Anyway, such narrow-mindedness forms a little disconnection from its audience. The film does think it is being ironic and in a funny way, it is. It's just that it is too silly to be taken seriously and too serious to be laughed at. I guess it's all part of its B-movie charisma that may be a little lost to me. The story may feel a little goofy but Sato and his leads do provide a good entertaining diversion. I do have to admit that I had a kick watching "Tokyo Zombie" but I have to say that it is NOT the type of film for everybody. A lot of folks just won't ‘get' the movie and it's not really anybody's fault. Sato and company knew what they wanted to do--play the movie for Japanese film fans and the heck with anyone who doesn't like it. For better or for worst, the film sidesteps almost all expectations and it will absolutely bewilder the viewer.
Recommended! [3 ½ + Stars]
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