October Horror Special: Tokyo Zombie

2005’s Tokyo Zombie is directed and written by Sakichi Satô. In lieu of referencing other things that I can bet my bottom dollar will never be released in the States, how about I reference some of his non-directorial credits for context. Outside of being a screenwriter with credits in Takeshi Miike’s Ichi the Killer and Gozu, Sakichi Satô is recognizable as Charlie Brown from Kill Bill: Volume. 1. Tokyo Zombie was originally based on a 1999 manga written by Yusaku Hanakuma, which publisher Last Gasp released years ago, so it is good to see that the original source material is available.

Mitsuo and Fujio are two maintenance men working at a secluded fire extinguisher manufacturing plant. During their lunch break, bald-headed Mitsuo and afro-headed Fujio spend time laying out mats on the floor and practicing Jujitsu. With Mitsuo training Fujio, this time is dedicated to arm locks, grapples, and finishing blows. They are forced to stop though once their manager shows up flustered and demanding that they stop this wrestling and get back to work. After their manager goes out of his way to physically humiliate Mitsuo, Fujio’s quick temper takes over to defend his fellow employee and friend and decides to whack his manager upside the head with an extinguisher. Realizing that Fujio accidently killed him, Mitsuo decides that they should go to Black Fuji and bury him. Once at Black Fuji, after burying their late manager, they spot Fujio’s old pedophile school coach burying a dead child which implies that the coach killed him. Fujio sees what is going on, and beats his old coach unconscious with the shovel they used to bury their manager as revenge. They then depart from Black Fuji.

The reason they call the mountain Black Fuji stems from its creation. See, akin to the tire fire pill from The Simpsons, Black Fuji is a huge inner city mountain created by people using it as a dump site. But Black Fuji has another use, that of a make-shift burial ground (be it an illegal action like murder mentioned earlier or just that the Japanese make even the most basic grave plots as expensive as a mausoleum). To sum up famed horror manga artist Kazuo Umezu’s cameo description of what is to follow, “The biochemical waste and the human corpses buried deep inside Black Fuji will slow mingle with dark spirits to create zombies”. Yes, this is a Comedy with zombies. Not noticing until the next day when their manager returns from the dead to attack them, Mitsuo and Fujio learn that with Japan over run with zombies, the only place to go now is north to the land of men, Russia.

Tokyo Zombie is many things, with a comedy about the friendship between the two leads being at the fore-front. Much of the story progresses by having these two either misconstrue things (Mitsuo is easily convinced and Fujio is a slow buffoon) and then take action on these misconceptions. What makes Tokyo Zombie different from some of the other Horror Comedies is that instead of being Horror that just happens to try humor, it is a Comedy that happens to be set in a universe with zombies. Even when these two are beating a man senseless with a shovel or nonchalantly meandering around how they just ran over someone on Black Fuji, it never seems mean-spirited or ruthless (I struggle to not draw a Bill and Ted comparison, but that would be far to easy). It might take the piss out of certain scenes in Tokyo Zombie to think that the absurdity comes from genuine humor, but that just makes it stand out.

Pros: Instead of spending its time convincing you it is Comedy before Horror, it creates a mood that is all its own. That bond between friends focus allows for Tokyo Zombie to have a genuine approach to serious character development. It turns into a post-apocalypse story during the second half that does not detract from the overall feel. Distinct musical score with pieces ranging from kooky piano to almost The Pillows level of Alternative Rock.

Cons: Fujio is a hard character to accept if you miss that this is a comedy. His bull-headedness, general dimwitted attitude, and inability to remove violence from a situation will draw comparisons to Lenny from Of Mice and Men. There are later scenes that could be construed as spousal abuse and domestic violence that if taken too seriously in context makes Fujio out to be a terrible human being. I try to never address the special effects budgets of non-American film considering that I feel that Americans are spoiled by monstrous budgets (India most expensive film Blue, only had a budget around fifteen-million, and they produce more film than any other country). Doing so would break my notion that all film fans (especially those focusing in special effects) should see film from other countries to understand that, unlike America, a film cannot just throw money at it to look nice. That said, Tokyo Zombie has money behind it, but its big ideas are hard to render when you budget only allows for big distracting CG set pieces. It should not distract, but unfortunately certain viewers will use it against Tokyo Zombie.

Manga released Tokyo Zombie, and you can find it rather cheaply. This is by all definitions a different film, standing out from even the different material I take for granted. It is a film that might require explaining to any one you want to share with, just because they might expect a more balls-to-the-wall experience that has become expected from films that look and act as this one does. Tokyo Zombie is comfort food, plain and simple. It has just the right level of bizarre which will satisfy the jaded while not pushing away the normal.

This is Part 4 of Tour of East Asian Horror.

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