(This review may contain some spoilers. Stay away if you want to remain uninformed!)
"Tokyo Zombie" - with a name like that, how can you go wrong? A Japanese horror movie with zombies must kick butt (yeah, Versus!), right? Well, there was that little mess of a movie called "Stacy", but we'll forgive them because even a (mostly) failed attempt at mixing Zombies and schoolgirls can't be all bad. Suffice to say that most horror fans expectations for thisfilm will be very high. But enough about "Tokyo Zombie" expectations for now, let's get to the actual "Tokyo Zombie" review!
It's only fair to confess that this review is written by non-Japanese-speaking viewer. Sure, some fair-minded professional reviewers might wait to review a foreign-language movie until it comes out on DVD with English subtitles. However, when the movie in question is a Japanese zombie comedy based on a darkly comic manga and directed by the writer of "Ichii the Killer" (Sakichi Sato), this reviewer found it impossible to wait!
I saw "Tokyo Zombie" at a theater in Shibuya, Tokyo with a pair of Japanese-speaking horror fans. These unnamed fellow movie goers were very helpful in explaining certain elements of the film. If you are going to see this film and you don't speak Japanese, bringsome Japanese friends with you - it's fun and educational.
The movie stars Japanese pop culture icons, and Takeshi Miike co-conspirators, Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa - another thing that tells you right up front that you will not be able to dislike the movie, even if you can't understand exactly what everyone is saying!
The story revolves around Fujio and Mitsuo (Aikawa and Asano) - two guys who work at a fire extinguisher plant. They're best friends who spend their free time engaged in male bonding - specifically, wrestling. Fujio was a great wrestler in the past. No matter how hard he tries, Mitsuo can't pin him. Their boss catches them wrestling, which leads to the pair accidentally killing him with a fire extinguisher.
Fearing jail for the murder, Fujio and Mitsuo take off in a funky van and soon come face to face (or rather, bumper to face) with a variety of the zombies created by "Black Fuji", a mountain of garbage. Mitsuo becomes smitten with a pretty young woman at a convenience store and decides to "rescue" her from a herd of zombies by throwing her over his shoulder and running for the truck. In the process, he's bitten by one of the zombies. Convinced he's doomed to become one of the undead, he leaps off a bridge into a river and out of Fujio's life - or so it seems.
Fast-forward five years. An evil woman has captured a bunch of zombies and is using them and some surviving humans as her slaves. She entertains packs of bloodthirsty old women by staging gladiator-style zombie battles. Fujio finds that he must use the fighting skills that his lost buddy Mitsuo taught him to survive.
Yusaku Hanakuma (author of the original manga and real-life jiu jitsu fighter) choreographed the many wrestling scenes and has a cameo as a particularly tough zombie fighter. It is here where Fujio and Mitsuo are reunited, and we discover the details of Mitsuo's life-changing bite.
Sounds promising, doesn't it? It is and it isn't. Disappointingly for this viewer, "Tokyo Zombie" is somewhat light on both zombies and Tokyo. There are never enough zombies in any scene to be truly scary, and most of the movie seems to take place on a set or in a field. Some of the wrestling scenes - though important to the plot - are so long that they slow the movie's momentum. There's no nudity (with the odd exception of a young zombie boy's behind being ogled by an ill-fated businessman) and some of the CGI gore effects are laughably bad (possibly intentionally so?) - particularly a scene of Mitsuo's head throbbing after a severe beating. The funny bits are funny - though they could stand to be a bit less slapstick and a bit more dark. It's almost as though director Sato was reaching for the mass market. With all of the potential, the movie feels a bit bland somehow.
On the plus side, Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa are great fun in their scenes together. It's really more of a buddy comedy movie, with some actual emotional scenes between the two main characters, rather than a fast paced zombie horror film. Maybe if I would have gone into the film expecting a quirky buddy film between two of Japan's coolest actors, I would have been better off. I guess I was hoping for more horror elements - frights, zombies, blood, exploitation, Armageddon, etc.
Overall, "Tokyo Zombie" isn't especially groundbreaking or edgy as a horror film, but it is entertaining - probably even more so if you can understand all of the dialogue. It's worth a view, and the soundtrack is pretty good, too. Also, don't forget to check out the original Japanese manga that this movie was based on - it's got a bit more kick to it than the movie, even if the pictures don't move.
Don't forget to check out Horror.com's other Tokyo Zombie coverage, including coverage of promo events for the film in Shibuya and Shinjuku as well as a Yusaku Hanakuma Tokyo Zombie art show.
Official Website: The Official Japanese Language Site