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Film Review: Tokyo Zombie (2005)

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A pair of bumbling wannabe jujitsu masters fight to survive a zombie infestation in Tokyo.


Director: Sakichi Sato

Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Show Aikawa, Kauzo Umezu, Erika Okuda, Shatoshi Hashimoto, Hina Matsuoka

The Examination: Frequently funny zombie romp filled with zen, over-the-top slapstick and of course, nods to Romero.

Zombies have never been as popular as they are these days and not to be outdone in the undead spoofing sweepstakes by the UK’s smarmy Shaun of the Dead, here comes Tokyo Zombie, a nutty zombie party based on a popular Japanese manga penned by U-saku Hanakuma.

Your premise is this: two clownish rejects of society, the afro-dashed Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) and his impromptu balding sensei Mitsuo (Show Aikawa) who practice jujitsu together on their lunch breaks are harassed by their boss to such extremes Fujio inadvertently kills him. In the center of Tokyo is a mountainous trash heap the locals dub “Black Fuji” where not only is refuse and discarded appliances dumped, but also dead bodies and industrial waste. 

Of course, our protagonists are left with no option but to get rid of their abusive boss’ corpse by doing the apropos thing and burying him in Black Fuji. Herewith sets up our story as the discarded bodies suddenly come to life from regeneration by the toxic desecration. When Fujio spots a teacher from his past who molested him as a youngster and who is also getting rid of a dead body, Fujio attacks his violator by brutally spanking him with a shovel and leaving the sleazewad to his fate. In this case, with his pants removed and a girl zombie crawling out of Black Fuji, the slimy perv requests service despite her “not being his type.” Of course, you can guess what this schmuck’s fate is one she chomps down. There is a price for necrophilia, folks…

Here is the incredulously messy spirit of Tokyo Zombie, a film where people have such casually superhuman strength they can decapitate others with a well-placed kick, which goofily plays into the time-honored mythos that the only way to dispatch a zombie properly is to gore its brains out or decapitate it altogether. Unfortunately, Sakichi Sato, who also wrote the wonderfully infamous Ichi the Killer doesn’t capitalize on the high stakes insanity he could’ve. He saves his beheading lunacy for the opening quarter of Tokyo Zombie then essentially leaves this sight gag to the breeze for most of the film thereafter. Gratuitous decapitations certainly never stopped Tim Burton…

On the other hand, Sato’s rather hilarious script sets his zombies into dumfounded motion where they routinely trip and fall (trust me, you laugh every time) and at one point in Tokyo Zombie’s most gut-busting deadthing gag, they stalk our cast to a bridge and why seldom few have thought of this before, instead of being deterred by the waters below, the zombies start diving in comedic fashion into the drink, much to the horrified chagrin of Fujio, who can’t swim, for the record.

Tokyo Zombie settles into less of a carnage fest and more into a story of buffooned redemption in the midst of a holocaust. As Mitsuo is bitten by a zombie (stay tuned for a head-scratching twist to this plot by film’s end), he departs his seemingly hopeless pupil–who by this time has constantly plunged him into scraps against the zombies due to his dunderheaded ways–leaving him with a foul-mouthed street survivor to fend for themselves.

At this point the film cuts to the future where Tokyo has “died” from the zombie plague and in a nod to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead, a group of rich folk hole themselves inside a pyramid building where non-zombie ordinary folk are turned into slaves, largely to serve on the “Squeeze Electric Company.” You can’t resist at least snickering to see a group of people vigorously pumping hand grips with wires connected to a server board…man, those wacky Japanese.

Fujio has now evolved into a reasonably proficient jujitsu fighter in which he makes a living dispatching zombies in pit fights. Unfortunately, his methods are quick and to the point, which pisses off the decidedly-female spectators who want to see Fujio killed in the heat of battle for his lack of entertainment value. Even as fake fights are staged in which one beloved wrestler takes on phony zombies and wins (don’tcha love that sly commentary?), the bloodlust is so great the fight promoter who has a homosexual crush on Fujio plants a real zombie against the stage wrestler with a disemboweled result and also with eventual repercussions for Fujio.

When Fujio is eventually set against his “master” Mitsuo in a human vs. zombie battle, all hell breaks loose thereafter. Tokyo Zombie takes another Romero cue with a group of alcohol-addicted hellions breaking into the pyramid sanctuary. The would-be thieves hose down the self-righteous spectators with excrement while the zombies are turned loose and Tokyo Zombie concludes in another zany twist with Mitsuo chasing down his old student with a demand to be finished off. If you’ve seen the loose-wheeled Kung-Fu Hustle, you’ll be reminded of those comical chase scenes here.

Certainly Romero has subtle-to-blatant measures spotted within Tokyo Zombie. If you watch carefully, there’s one quick scene where the lead zombie pack resembles Romero’s famed Dawn of the Dead stalkers, complete with a nurse dead center. Though the gore is tamed down the longer the movie winds and the pacing is relegated to insult gags between Fujio and his new extended family, there’s still something appealing to this quirky film. Tokyo Zombie is sharp-looking and appreciative of all that has come before it. 

To see Mitsuo school Fujio in jujitsu principles whilst under a zombie attack is the entire essence of this ridiculously pleasing film. Of course, you have to take note of Sakichi Sato’s balls for having his duo seek asylum in Russia instead of the United States, the former of which Mitsuo cites as the “manly” one to live in. Won’t the Republicans have a field day with that…

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