Yes, I know, I’m reviewing a film about a bunch of orphans who form a J Pop band. But the plot of Makoto Nagahisa’s We Are Little Zombies was so off the wall and offered so much potential for Jet black humour I had to check it out. And did I mention the 8 bit Nintendo style graphics?
Four thirteen-year-olds, Hikari (Keita Ninomiya), Ikuko (Sena Nakajima), Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno) and Takemura (Mondo Okumura) meet in a most unusual manner. They’re all at the crematorium to say a final goodbye to their parents. But even as their parents are being turned into dust “like fine Parmesan atop a plate of spaghetti Bolognese”, none of them can show any emotion.
The quartet do what any bunch of kids would do in this situation, they run off and form a band. Since they don’t emotion, they naturally call it “Little Zombies”. But what happens when success and fame don’t bring the results they expected?
While there is no denying the amazing visuals and style of We Are Little Zombies, the script can’t match up to it. We spend about an hour learning the kids’ backstories and how they came to be at the crematorium. And why they feel nothing at their loss. It’s meant to be serious despite being shot and edited like the Nintendo handheld Hikari carries.
But it never gets much deeper than kids with shitty relationships with their parents have a good chance of growing up with issues. And that funerals aren’t much fun. That’s basically all we get out of the first 60 of We Are Little Zombies 120 minutes.
From there it finally pivots into the promised band film. We Are Little Zombies does do a fairly good job of subverting the standard rise and fall narrative. There are enough oddities and twists thrown in to keep the viewer off-balance. And there’s much less of a disconnect between the visuals and the material.
But, just like zombies are an imitation of living beings, We Are Little Zombies feels like an imitation of an important film. It wants to say deep, meaningful things while creating its own style. Instead, it looks great but is empty. It did make me think of the films of Francis Ford Coppola, specifically One from the Heart.
Where Coppola went incredibly high tech to create his film, Nagahisa goes retro low tech. Overhead shots of the kids walking single file like characters in a game. 8 bit music in a film broken up into game like chapters. Complete with titles and images taken from old Nintendo games. The result though is the same Both are beautiful to look at. Both have music that will be a matter of taste. And both are films about emotion that are empty inside.
A word of warning. The “Game Over” and credits at the hour and forty seven minute mark isn’t the end. There’s still another ten minutes or so to go before the real ending.
We Are Little Zombies will be released to theatres and VOD on July 10th from Oscilloscope Laboratories. You can get a list of theatres on the film’s website.