I love Asian cinema and for overall weirdness, gore, perversion and dark humor, the Japanese win every time. They’re constantly outdoing not just every other country in pulpy cinematic respect, but also top themselves every other year.
Take, for example, Tokyo Zombie from 2005. Now, I’m not much for the Japanese Horror films such as Ringu and the like, or really horror films at all, but zombie movies sort of transcend the horror genre. They tend to skirt satire on a good day and drama when well executed. And then sometimes, they are really funny.
Now, Shaun of the Dead had been released just the year before, so perhaps this low-budget movie was a direct response to that work of pure horror-comedy genius Edgar Wright put together. And Tokyo Zombie is funny. I laughed out loud quite a few times at some really unexpected physical comedy and dark gags. Even when something is heavy handed, if done with proper timing and direction, it could be borderline genius.
This movie isn’t genius though but the first half is quite great.
Two slackers that work at a fire extinguisher refilling station, who’d rather practice jujitsu than work, accidentally kill their boss. Well, maybe not so accidentally, but definitely surprisingly for the viewer at least. Then they drive up to ‘Black Fuji’, the name of the giant black mountain of trash that has accumulated outside of town, where people bury all sorts of refuse, from refrigerators to porn to annoying in-laws and dead schoolboys.
Yeah, that’s right, this is Japanese after all, so the perv-factor is quite high, but really only for the first 10 minutes or so. After we see people tossing away all this garbage and dumping bodies, it all goes to hell quite fast. The dead start rising from the black earth and head on down into town. The situation goes right to full on zombie infestation without skipping a beat. And the main characters just sort of roll with it with their poker-faces on.
After all, they do know jujitsu.
So the first half becomes this sort of road movie where these friends bond by dealing with mortality, hypochondria, ineptitude and lots of slapstick. Then they rescue a girl and suddenly everything changes.
As we ride an animated segment into Zombieville Crazytowne, we jump five years into a future where the rich have built themselves a protected pyramid of lush living and they entertain themselves by having slaves (survivors they kidnap) fight zombies in a gladiatorial arena.
Yeah, I know.
So then it becomes a matter of the younger fighter having to defeat his former friend/mentor in order to overcome the self-imposed limitations he had. Seems fighting someone who’s not a zombie isn’t so easy though, so the whole thing falls apart. If this all sounds a bit messy and vague it’s only because I would have to write a whole book to explain the bizarre twists and turns the second half of this movie takes.
So it is very flawed but well worth a watch for the first half alone. The second half has its moments and is fun to watch just see what it is like when someone changes scripts halfway through, switching from Shaun of the Dead to Gladiator. There’s so many funny moments and the actors are really quite good in this quite low-budget horror comedy, but where Shaun of the Dead brilliantly walks the fine line of actual horror movie and comedy, this flick is pure comedy (with maybe a dash of drama).
But there are other foreign zombie movies out there to check out that I HIGHLY recommend.
[REC] (Spain, 2007)
This is my favorite horror movie of all time. A masterpiece of low-budget first person perspective horror that’s very well acted. The great twists and turns really keep the anxiety up and the ending is just…well, go watch it. Whatever you do, do not watch the American remake Quarantine! Not even the trailer. Don’t. Do. It.
Dead Snow (Norway, 2009)
This is another movie that skirts the lines of various genres. It’s a drama, of sorts, then a bizarre sort of comedy and, finally, a full on genre flick with at least one direct shout out to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies. Oh, and did I mention, ZOMBIE NAZIS?! Yes, that’s right. Watch it. You may need two viewings, I know I did.
Undead (Australia, 2003)
I didn’t love this movie, but I know a lot of people that do. I think I need to watch it again. It has moments of genius that I do recall and the ending is quite striking and powerful. I remember a lot of the incidental moments rather than the actual plot, but it really is worth a watch.
Kurt Christenson has too many blogs to list. Follow him on Twitter @AgentFenris to keep track of them all.