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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tokyo Zombie
Tokyo Zombie
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // April 1, 2009
List Price: $26.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted March 24, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Product:

Let's say it one more (and hopefully last) time, shall we - let's leave the poor zombie alone? Our favorite skin snacking social symbol is poised to become as pointless as the vampire and the serial killer as a means of sound, straightforward cinematic menace. We've had running cannibal corpses, lumbering living dead, and all manner of Rage-inspired 'don't call them zombies' flesh fiends. We've even had comedies - Shaun of the Dead, Fido - fiddling with the horror movie icons. Now comes the appropriately named Tokyo Zombie. Based on the popular manga by Yusaku Hanakuma, this heta-uma style presentation (rough translation - "so bad, it's good") uses outsized violence and dumbed down visuals to bring a different, lo-fi twist to the whole Japanese comic concept. Now, filmmaking newcomer Sakichi Satô is bringing the material to the big screen, and one thing's for sure: he certainly knows his movie macabre lore. That's not necessarily a good thing, however, as this schizophrenic semi-success will show.

The Plot:

Tokyo is in the middle of a self-created trash crisis. Families have been randomly dumping their debris - and dead relatives - in a massive mound on the outskirts of town. Tagged "Black Fuji" by the locals, this unsightly mountain of junk radiates with poisons, toxins, and numerous nasty surprises. At a nearby fire extinguisher plant, Fuijo and his martial arts master Mistuo spend their days practicing jiujutsu moves and making jokes. Of course, they are completely unaware of the horrific problem evolving nearby. The bodies of discarded individuals are coming back to life, and they're looking for human beings to feed on. Soon, our heroes are on the run, trying to avoid the reanimated terrors while surviving in a civilization slowly dying. Eventually, the pair runs into Yoko, an ill-tempered young girl with questionable interpersonal skills. This leads to a tragedy, a timeline jump of five years, and a surreal future shock society where Fuijo finds himself competing in a cruel public contest in which zombies are pitted against humans in a 'to the death' battle royale.

The DVD:

Like two completely whacked out ideas tossed together with exaggerated cartoon antics, bird feces, and spit, Tokyo Zombie is destined to throw even the most dedicated genre fan for a big fat loop. There's not enough blood and guts to be a true gore fest (though our Asian friends certainly have mastered the fine art of the neck bite), and the comedy is scattered and definitely geared toward the Japanese sense of shame-humor. Yet thanks to the visual finesse of director Sakichi Satô and the chemistry between co-stars Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa, we ignore the foreign feeling and simple enjoy the energy and visual invention offered. It's hard to say if Satô has a point beyond being ridiculous. The notion of Tokyo being overrun with garbage and everyday people dropping off dead bodies without a single moral care is definitely subversive, and Black Fuji (the massive mountain of garbage such nonchalant dumping has created) is clearly an affront to the city's post-modern clean concept of itself. Still, there's so much mugging and crazy kung-foolishness that any message gets lost.

In fact, it's the second half of Tokyo Zombie which is the most disconcerting. After 50 minutes of slapstick, silly faces, and all around stupidity, the movie makes a left turn, throws you a curve ball, and then takes off on a trek into totally insanity. It's as if Satô saw George Romero's class conscious Land of the Dead prior to shooting and said, "I can make this work here." As a result, we get a Mad Max Beyond Believability set up where Fujio spends his days playing gladiator for the puffy rich witches who populate a State sponsored futuristic fight club. We get snatches of Rollerball (the contests are fixed) and a pinch of Running Man and any other dystopian effort that's graced a modern movie screen. Together, they take the film in a direction unexpected, and for the most part, unnecessary. Everyday, our lonely lead returns to his dirty hovel of a home only to hear Yoko, the girl he supposedly save at the end of Part One, curse him out like an irredeemable dog. She wants him to throw battles, if only for the chance at a Government-Sponsored apartment. She ignores "their" child, letting the little girl wallow in filth as she undermines our hero. It's all so bleak that it could induce suicide.

Yet Tokyo Zombie still thinks it's being ironic. You can tell from the goofball hairdos (afros and friar-like bald spots), pig-like female spectators, and overall atmosphere of 'anything goes.' Satô definitely has a fascinating visual flair, and he handles his comedy with an uncanny deadpan finesse. But there is still something "off" about this film. It doesn't come across as overly comical, even with the cast pratfalling away shamelessly. It's not all that horrific even when walking deadheads are taking chunks of skin out of random extras. And the message seems mired in a nationalist knowledge that we in America are complete unaware of. A lot of the time, Tokyo Zombie does feel like a private joke between the cast, the crew, and the intended, clued-in audience. Such insularity makes the material hard to grasp, and when the narrative switches to something more serious, we feel even more lost. There is a lot to enjoy about this off-kilter romp through trash and terror and Satô and his leads are definitely worth supporting. The overall story, on the other hand, is tough to embrace.

The Video:

As per this critic's policy, Screener copies of DVDs are not awarded points for video or audio. If Anchor Bay does send a final product version of Tokyo Zombie to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly.

The Audio:

As per this critic's policy, Screener copies of DVDs are not awarded points for video or audio. If Anchor Bay does send a final product version of Tokyo Zombie to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly.

The Extras:

Offered exclusively in Japanese with easy to read subtitles, the added content here gives us a chance to hear director Satô and stars Asano (Fujio) and Aikawa (Mitsuo) discuss the making of the movie, as well as their interpretation of the material. All throughout the mandatory Making-of, a cast and crew Q&A promoting, the project, a pair of pre-screening interview featurettes, and an in-store appearance from the two main leads, the most fascinating things is how different the actors look in "real" life. In some ways, they are almost unrecognizable. As they walk through the standard praise and plaudits, we are spellbound by such a physical transformation. It speaks for both their dedication to Tokyo Zombie and the hair and wardrobe artists hired for the shoot. These bonus features also give us a better handle on the overall history and cultural popularity of the material. Author Yusaku Hanakuma is even on hand to explain himself. As long as they make it to the final package (this is a Screener, after all), the extras offered here are well worth your time. The truly complement the title.

Final Thoughts:

Though this critic thoroughly enjoyed the experience, he is well aware that your mileage with the manic Tokyo Zombie may vary wildly. Fans of Japanese film will definitely get a kick out of the frantic, farcical tone and genre mavens may even enjoy the unusual take of the undead dynamic. But there will definitely be a large percentage of the motion picture population who just won't 'get' a single moment of this movie, and it's really not their fault. Funny or not, this flick is playing to a particular segment of the audience, and if you're not part of it, the makers really don't care. Their intended fanbase will show up in support. Still, for. what's there, for Satô's unusual way with imagery and performance, Tokyo Zombie deserves a score of Recommended...with some reservations. When you read a title like this, all kinds of crazed cinematic images start filling your brain. Everything from a terrific Tetsuo inspired bit of cyberpunk to a more straight forward J-horror experience comes to mind. Oddly enough, this is one film that sidesteps those expectations - for good, and for bad.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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