Most film genres began their existence as nice little boxes that you could place any given movie into. A comedy was funny, a drama serious and a horror flick had to be frightening. Slowly over time the walls of these boxes began to break down the genres started to blend and merge. The results were generally positive for the art of cinema leading to multidimensional stories. Some genres are naturals for combination like dramatic comedies. They compliment each other and provide a broad spectrum of human emotions. One combination that has become increasingly popular of late is the horror comedy. Most devotees of the horror world may be under the impression that this is a recent trend but it actually has roots deep in motion pictures. The thirties were the first golden age of horror with Universal Studio’s slate of monster flicks that brought the world Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf man. It took about a decade but in 1948 they released ‘Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein’ and the hybrid comedic horror movie was born. There is just something about scaring people and making them laugh that works out well. Both screaming and laughter are emotional releases that help purge our minds. To have them in the same movie is on the order of chocolate and peanut butter. Horror films are also conducive to parody. In 1981 a little cult film was released called ‘Student Bodies’ that was one of the first to poke fun at slasher flicks. This was the ancestor of the ‘Scream’ and ‘Scary Movie’ franchises. This leads us up to 2004 with the release of ‘ Shaun of the Dead’ which is still one of the intentionally funniest horror flicks of all time. As is the case with any genre that becomes popular film makers in other countries begin to add their own cultural slant on a genre and now the Asian horror community has made a very funny flick about the undead with ‘Tokyo Zombie’.
When I first found out that I would have an opportunity to review this movie I was excited over the prospect. I am a big fan of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and in general enjoy horror comedies so I was anxious to see what changes an Asian perspective would bring to the genre. Like many horror fans I have gotten into the differences between American and Japanese straight horror. We here in the States tend to go for the visceral approach using a ton of fake blood and guts to scare the audience. The Asian film maker, especially the Japanese, go more for the psychological story using the mind to frighten the viewers. There is another wrinkle added here. ‘Shaun’ was a British production and throws their unique brand of humor into the mix so with this film we have a Japanese interpretation of a British movie made along the lines of an American genre. On paper this may sound like a receipt for disaster but the final result was one of the funniest horror films I have seen in a very long time.
Helping to add to the Japanese flavor here is the basis for the story; a manga written by Yûsaku Hanakuma. This format is well known globally for its dark wit and action making it perfect for this type of story. Bringing it to the screen fell to Sakichi Satô who also directed the movie. He had one other film as a director and a few other scripts but most American audience remember him as ‘Charlie Brown’ the lamentable club owner in ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1’. He provides a smart screenplay that translates well with the English subtitles sported by the DVD release. At the center of the story is a pair of hapless idiots Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) and Mitsuo (Sho Aikawa). One has his head shaved Samurai style while the other one rocks a huge Afro. They are dumber than any of their slacker counterparts in an American ‘R’ rated flick. "Shaun’ also had a similar character in the lead so it does appear that slackers are a universal archetype for our species. When a zombie epidemic break out it seems that nobody is particularly concerned. I guess when you live somewhere that is frequently plagued by Godzilla and other giant creatures a lumbering group of the undead is just not that bad.
Satô directs this flick with a nice touch of style. In many scenes he just cuts loose and lets the slapstick flow bringing laughter to even the most die hard fan of zombie flicks. This is a silly movie and that is not intended as a negative. The humor does hover around the darker end of the comedy spectrum but it does so successfully. The pair of lazy worker hates their over zealous boss giving a lot of people in the audience something to identify with. We have spent some time working at a grind of a job for a self righteous supervisor and may have secretly wondered ho to get rid of him. The juxtaposition of a pair of morons fending off a horde of zombies is just what you need to forget the work week and kick back for some laughs. Satô does lose track of the minimal narrative of the story somewhere towards the end of the second act. The story goes off track and never finds its way back but fir the most part the humor is consistent.
Jujio and Mitsuo are best friends who both work for an uptight boss Ujimoto who is always on their case and pushing them to do their jobs. Circumstances work out so that the pair causes the untimely demise of Ujimoto and now they are left with the complication of getting rid of the body. They decide to take him to a trash heap commonly known as Black Fuj. It is a literal mountain of trash and refuse that has been building up for ass long as anyone can remember. Along with rotting garbage, discarded household appliances and old magazines are a number of other bodies that have met early and unfortunate deaths. The combination of toxic waste acts upon the dead turning them into zombies with a chip on their decaying shoulders for the living. The pair decide to cut their losses and run to of all places Russia. This initiates a bizarre road trip of comic horror. Along the way they come across a once thriving gated community where the zombies are pitted against each other for sport and of course, a beautiful young woman.
The requisite bloodshed and gore are all played for laughs. Even when heads or limbs are separated from their bodies there is more humor involved than flowing blood. Slapstick is rarely done correctly anymore. The art of physical comedy has been relegated to foolish antics but in this movie it is done with old school style. This is one that will not disappoint.