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Tokyo Zombie (2005)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/7/2009

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/29/2009

It's been several years since I would have truly considered myself a foreign movie fan (I went through wicked Italian, Chinese, and Japanese horror movie binges a few years ago), but I would never turn down an opportunity to see a film just because it's from a foreign country. However, one thing hasn't changed: Sometime cultural differences and knowledge of another country can influence the viewing experience. If you aren't aware of cultural norms or the subtleties of a people, one may miss the point of a movie. I'm hoping that this is the case with Tokyo Zombie, a movie which did nothing for me.

Tokyo Zombie is in fact set in Tokyo and we learn that the citizens have allowed their garbage to amass into a giant formation known as Black Fuji. This mountainous refuse dump is near a fire extinguisher factory where Mitsuo (Sho Aikawa) and Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) are employed. But, instead of working, they spend their days practicing jujitsu. When their boss complains about this, they accidentally kill him. They decide to dump the body on Black Fuji and discover that it's crawling with zombies. Soon, the zombies have taken over the city. Mitsuo and Fujio decide to flee the city and go to Russia (?!). Along the way, they meet Yoko (Erika Okuda). The story then jumps ahead five years. Due to the zombie epidemic, the rich citizens of Tokyo have created a walled city, where they use slaves for work and entertainment. Fujio has become a cage-fighter and battles zombies on a daily basis. Will his jujitsu be good enough to keep him alive?

If you are surprised by the weirdness of a Japanese movie, then you've clearly never seen a Japanese movie. Are they made this weird on purpose? That's irrelevant, because they are weird and we must deal with it. Tokyo Zombie was directed by Sakichi Sato, who was worked with Japanese weird movie legend Takashi Miike. Sakichi wrote the Takashi vehicles Gozu and Ichi the Killer, so he's definitely had a brush with weirdness before.

However, Tokyo Zombie is his first true gig as a feature film director and he clearly still has a lot to learn about pacing. Takashi Miike's movies may be weird and inscrutable, but there's usually something happening in them, whether or not we get it. Tokyo Zombie is very slow-paced and its 104-minute running time seems mercilessly long. The long scenes where Mitsuo and Fujio practice jujitsu seem to go on forever and one has to wonder if the movie isn't simply daring us to hit the fast-forward button. Also, if you were hoping that the weirdness would be peppered with some great zombie action, they you're looking in the wrong place. The zombie scenes in the movie are actually few and far-between and there is little violence here.

There are also issues with the story, which is based on a manga by Yusaku Hanakuma, but, as noted above, I may have perceived some of these problems due to the fact that I wasn't grasping the cultural undertones of the movie. While the movie has a plot, there is very little story here, and what we do get is woefully short on details. We learn what Black Fuji is, but we aren't told why it has been allowed to happen. (Is this a reference to a garbage problem in Tokyo?) We are never fully told why zombies appear on Black Fuji or how they are able overrun the city. The second half of the film is even more devoid of details. Is this part of the movie a representation of some sort of class warfare in Japan? Why are exercise squeezers used to generate electricity? Is this simply random weirdness, or is there a deeper meaning behind it?

Tokyo Zombie is a conundrum. I'm sure that some of the film's ideas worked as a black-and-white manga, but as a feature film, they fall short. The movie is excruciatingly boring at times and the low-budget special effects certainly don't help. To make matters worse, neither Mitsuo or Fujio are very likeable, so there's little cause for the audience to worry about their safety. Those expecting a Japanese version of Shaun of the Dead will be very disappointed by this movie. However, I must say that Tokyo Zombie lives up to its name -- it's brain-dead and shuffling around with no clear destination.

Tokyo Zombie sports an afro on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. I can't help but wonder if the movie was shot on HD, as it doesn't suffer from any major defects save for some slight noise at times. The DVD carries both an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and a Japanese Dolby stereo track. Being somewhat of a purist, for the purposes of this review, I stuck with the Japanese track. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, with no hissing or distortion. The stereo effects are good at times, and the angry crowd from the film's second half sounds fine. The English subtitles are very easy to read.

The Tokyo Zombie DVD contains several extras. "Making of the Dead" (53 minutes) takes an in-depth look at the creation of the film. The piece contains comments from the director, producer, the original comic creator, and the actors. (We get to see some panels from the comic.) There is a long segment showing the jujitsu training. There is then a detailed look at the film's production, including the look of the actors and the zombies. We get a great deal of on-set footage here. The piece concludes with a look at the visual effects. "Actor Interviews #1" (11 minutes) offers comments from Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa at a premiere, while "Actor Interviews #2" (4 minutes) has the two together in a more intimate interview. "Cast and Crew Q&A Session" (10 minutes) takes place at an opening day screening and features Tadanobu Asano, Sho Aikawa, Erika Okuda, Sakichi Sato, and Hanakumo Yuusaku commenting on the film. The extras are rounded out by 3 TEASERS and 2 TRAILERS.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long