When the dead begin to rise from a toxic waste dump right outside of Tokyo known as Black Mount Fuji, two jiu-jitsu loving factory workers take to the road in an effort to become the best martial artists they can be. Based on the Japanese manga of the same name.
Out of all the different types of zombies, toxic zombies are easily the worst to deal with among the undead. Most of the undead are like myself, brought back to life by a virus that was passed on to them through a bite, but there are many different kinds. There’s demonic zombies created by the machinations of hell’s more unruly folk. These guys can get rambunctious depending upon the demon possessing them, but they’re usually more interested in mischievous chaos than they are in causing any real harm. They can actually be quite fun if you give them a chance. Then there’s the cybernetic zombies, not really much you can say about those sticks in the mud. They’re not true zombies, not to the undead anyhow. Yeah, they’re reanimated corpses, but they don’t really retain anything of who they were before death, nor do they have any willpower of their own. These guys are usually completely controlled by whoever decided to start shoving mechanical parts inside of their corpse. Don’t think of them as zombies so much, they’re more robots with some flesh attached to them. There’s also the magic zombies, not to be confused with voodoo zombies. Voodoo zombies aren’t magic and they aren’t dead, brain damaged yes, but not dead, just the result of a poisonous mixture and some psychological torment. Magic zombies on the other hand are most assuredly dead, brought back to life by the power of a necromancer, they are bound to the person who resurrected them but still retain who they were. They can be a bit of a bummer, spending their time bitching and moaning about what a pain in the ass their necromancer master is, but they’re not bad people. The toxic zombie though, that’s a zombie you don’t want to be around. The radioactive waste that brings them back from the dead kind of messes with their head in a way that leaves the zombie a somewhat psychotic train wreck that’s as likely to attack another zombie as it is to attack a human. Not to mention the screaming insults that come out of their mouths before they attack, a string of profanities that would make a sailor blush. It’s bad enough having them bite you, but hearing them call you a “fucking **** son of a bitch *** ***** **** *** *** ****** ** ****** dick licker” makes it all that much worse. I know I’ve left a bit to the imagination there, but trust me, you do not want to have it translated.
Our film begins in a version of Tokyo that has become infamous for its mountain of garbage known as Black Mount Fuji. People come from all over to continuously add to the immense mountain of trash, dumping junk, toxic waste, and even using it to hide dead bodies. Down below, two factory workers, Fujio and Mitsuo, train in the art of jiu-jitsu, the elder Mitsuo trying to teach Fujio the things he’s learned over the years. They take every opportunity they can to practice, even training on their lunchbreaks, something that doesn’t sit well with one of the owners of their factory who begins to berate and humiliate Mitsuo, so much so that an angry Fujio kills their boss with a lethal blow to the head. The pair decide that their best bet is to dispose of the body on the infamous Black Mount Fuji, burying it along with the many others hidden amongst the trash. A strange thing is beginning to happen on Black Mount Fuji though, the massive amounts of toxic waste is affecting the numerous bodies by bringing the dead back to life. The pair witness the beginning of it but, being more interested in the fact that they not only got rid of evidence against them but nearly beat a pedophilic teacher to death when they caught him trying to get rid of his own evidence, don’t think much of it. By the next morning though, the problem has become impossible to ignore. Zombies are attacking people all over the city, causing rampant chaos and bringing the city of Tokyo to its knees. Fujio and Mitsuo grab their work van and hit the road, hoping to somehow make it to Russia to further Fujio’s training, but along the way things take a drastic turn and their plans may need some rethinking.
One of the great things about movies based on comic books is that they can bring a much wider audience to something many may not even known about. I’ve found myself exposed to this a lot lately and I’m very grateful for the chance to read comics that I would have otherwise never have looked up because I wouldn’t have even known they existed. There’s been a lot of comics I’ve come to enjoy, comics that I grew to love, that I hadn’t ever heard of before seeing the movies that were based on them. Trailer Park of Terror, iZombie, and Dylan Dog are all amazing comics that I didn’t know where a thing before I watched their cinematic counterparts. In recent years I’ve been able to add quite a bit more to that list, including some very popular titles that I was surprised to find out were comics as well such as Kingsman, Kick Ass, and Wanted. That’s why movie adaptions can be such a great thing, no matter how much of a comic book lover one might be, there are always going to be titles that you won’t have heard of, even ones that are popular titles can slip past a person with the sheer number of comic books available. Having a cinematic adaption opens up the comic world to a new fan that wouldn’t have known to be looking for it otherwise, even the terrible adaptions can at least make someone curious enough to look further, possibly finding something that appeals to their interest. Take Wanted for example, I thought the movie was absolutely horrendous and had no desire to watch it again, but when I found out it was a comic book I looked into it and found an incredibly enjoyable story that was completely different from the film, so while the movie was awful, had it not come out who knows when, or even if, I would have read the comic book. Well now there is another comic, or manga in this case, that I need to go look up. Tokyo Zombie is a Japanese manga that seems to be very similar, if not exactly like, the film. Having not read it yet I’ll have to base this review solely on the film, but I will definitely have to go out and look for the manga now because the film was a fun watch that reminded me why I love the odd, twisted sense of humor present in comedic Japanese horror films.
I should state right off the bat that if you aren’t normally a fan of the over the top, extremely perverted, and often times baffling Japanese humor, you might not care for Tokyo Zombie. It’s definitely not for everyone, so I can’t fault those that aren’t into it, but I would recommend giving this one a chance because it is hilarious, low brow sure, but hilarious none the less. I found myself laughing through a good chunk of the film at some of the absolutely stupid, but funny, things that were happening on screen. The parody Scary Movie films could learn a thing or two from Tokyo Zombie. It is some seriously whacked out humor that goes in a very odd direction most of the time, and you can expect a good chunk of it to be fairly perverted, but the actors make it work rather well for the film, and I couldn’t have seen a story like this being as good without it. The humor does take a bit of a turn at about the half way point in the film though, actually the whole movie takes a turn as it completely changes tone and focus. I don’t want to give too much away, no point in ruining the entire first half of the movie for you, but things change dramatically between the first and second half of Tokyo Zombie with the first half being about the initial outbreak and the second half being more about a post zombie Tokyo and it’s wealthier denizens’ love for zombie fights in which the living are pitted against the dead as entertainment. While the humor doesn’t disappear entirely, it’s definitely much less prevalent, instead gaining an almost sad tone as the poorer citizens suffer in the now walled off city, struggling just to eat, while the rich binge on whatever sounds good and place bets over the people forced to fight against the undead to put food on the table for their children. Don’t take that to mean it suddenly turns into a serious horror flick or becomes a morality tale involving the rich verse the poor because that is far from the case. It simply scales back on the humor a bit and grows somewhat darker in tone. Tokyo Zombie has its somber moments, but it is at its heart a comedic zombie film with insane humor and two characters you are bound to love.
Actors Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa work great with one another and I loved their pairing. Asano plays the somewhat awkward Fujio who wants to learn everything he can from his master Mitsuo. Fujio’s character originally wasn’t a favorite of mine, not that he was unlikable at all, he just had some annoying character flaws and seemed overly slow witted, almost as if he was trying too hard to show how touched in the brain he was, but he really started to grow on me as the movie went on. What seemed like him trying too hard to seem as dumb as possible was really his character doing his best to understand things that just didn’t come very easily to him. Yes, he is most assuredly a very slow witted person, but that doesn’t make him dumb by a long shot, it makes him look at the world differently than the rest of us, and as I adjusted to seeing the world through his eyes I realized that the fault in disliking his character laid not in how Tadanobu portrayed him, but in how I initially viewed him. I ended up enjoying his character so much not despite his flaws, but because of them. Tadanobu, who played one of my favorite roles as the sadistic, pain loving Kakihara in Ichi the Killer and whom Marvel movie fans might recognize as Thor’s friend and fellow Asgardian Hogun, does a wonderful job with the character, wonderfully portraying Fujio’s optimism, his naïve, overly trusting nature, and his determination to learn jiu-jitsu, but still handling the man’s more stoic, solemn scenes as well, perfectly transitioning between both attitudes. While Fujio is the cheerful, if somewhat dimwitted optimist, Mitsuo is his opposite, a stern and mostly humorless teacher who believes that jiu-jitsu is a beautiful thing as well at the best of the martial arts. He wants nothing more than to pass on his knowledge to Fujio but has trouble imparting said knowledge to an unfocused student. Aikawa, an actor already known for his ability to somehow keep things low key in an over the top movie, was an excellent choice for Mitsuo. Aikawa and Asano were a perfect match, pulling off a relationship that showed them as not only being a teacher and a student, but friends as well. I loved how compatible the pair were together, adding their combined talent to make the film the success it was at being a comedy fueled zombie flick.
The zombies themselves add to the humor as well, coming across as not so much violent fiends, but hungry and curious children confused about their desire for human flesh. It was a smart move to keep them less threatening and more amusing in both their actions and their looks as it worked better for the type of humor you’ll find in Tokyo Zombie. You won’t see the rotted, decaying ghouls prevalent in most zombie flicks, but I don’t think that portrayal of the undead would have fit nearly as well. Same goes for why I was okay without there not being much gore either. Tokyo Zombie isn’t going after scares, it’s going after laughs, something it was very good at. Even the music worked well for what they were going for, usually being of a more upbeat and whimsical nature. I was also a big fan of the dubbing that was recorded for those preferring to avoid subtitles. Instead of going with an exact translation, they aimed for one that would work better for a western audience, and I thought it helped the movie flow better if going with the dub over the subtitles. My only complaint with the dub was that it seemed a bit more cleaned up than it needed to be, avoiding using any overly offense language as if people watching might be afraid of the word fuck.
In the end, Tokyo Zombie was a fun movie with some eyebrow raising yet very funny humor. If you get the chance I would definitely check this one out.
The Undead Review
Directed By: Sakichi Sato (Tokyo Zombies, Zero Man vs. The Half Virgin)
Starring: Tadanobu Asano (47 Ronin, Ichi the Killer), Sho Aikawa (Dead or Alive, Gozu), and Erika Okuda (Homesick, Accuracy of Death)
Written By: Yusaku Hanakuma (writer of the original manga the film is based on) and Sakichi Sato (Ichi the Killer, Gozu)
Released By: Anchor Bay Entertainment and Toshiba Entertainment
Release Year: 2005
Release Type: Theatrical Release
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Rotten Heads: Four Heads Out of Five