17th Jul2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘We Are Little Zombies’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Satoshi Mizuno, Sena Nakajima, Keita Ninomiya, Mondo Okumura | Written and Directed by Makoto Nagahisa

little-zombies-poster

Directed and with a screenplay penned by Makoto Nagahisa, in his feature-film debut as both writer and man-in-the-chair, We Are Little Zombies is a Japanese drama film about four teenage orphans who form a rock band.

There is a lot, and I mean A LOT, going on with the film, and while I didn’t mind that (and in fact enjoyed how crazy it became at times) I think the sheer rapid and packed style of it could irk some viewers. There are slow moments, moments that take their time and build up the story in a less musical way, and these help calm things down, giving us foundations for our leads. It is the ingenious and bloody brilliant way that the film deals with the stages of grief. We’ve seen films deal with the topic before, but never in this way. Taking that concept and transitioning it into levels of a video game, with quests and mini-games, is tonally unusual but I thought worked fantastically well. Once you get used to the jarring way that this video game style doesn’t necessarily fit into the mould of handling loss, and jump on board, it becomes a fantastic experience.

The way the film builds and goes back in time with each of its orphaned kids, telling us the stories of their pasts, their parents and what comes next, are exceptionally done, realised with an eye for morose themes. I love the concept of We Are Little Zombies, with many of us knowing just how much music can drive us and help us through difficult and tumultuous times. The four 13 year olds, unsure how they feel about what they’re each experiencing, lean right back on music, and hearing their stories amidst the rapid quick-cuts and hyperactivity of Nagahisa’s directing style is a curious and, at-times, touching treat.

A two-hour long psycho-stylish vivid experience, this is a film that observes friendship, loss, family and the fleeting elements of fame and life itself, and it says these things, talks about them, in a way that is moving at times, peculiar in other instances, and frenetic. The music, which is the heartbeat of We Are Little Zombies, is a catchy and vibrant aspect, really delivering on what you’d hope it would. It’s really very good. There’s a black comedy running through the film, along with the expected oddball elements you might expect, but the actual irreverence and saddening moments, which are done with more subtlety that I’d predicted, bring some real soul to the whole film, showing its characters dealing with the hardship of grief whilst also growing as people, attempting to recover from the torment of their changed lives, eroded from loss.

Hikari, Ishi, Takemura and Ikuko all have their own tales to be told, and their own diverse personalities that break from norms and are engaging and entertaining to follow. I enjoyed the hell out of their stories, and the way that Nagahisa decided to tell them. Sure, I did prefer the more traditional and settled shots we got here more than the crazy editing that becomes something of a staple, but everything here worked, for me, and in the end I felt energised by what was a fresh, different and bizarrely touching film that talked about a lot of things in just a couple of hours.

A forceful colour-chart of a film that deals with well-trodden themes in an untrodden manner. It’s slower paced moments show it to be much more than style over substance, and its feverish and roaring moments show it to be inventive and explosively exciting. Makoto Nagahisa did something truly eccentric here, and I had a great time.

**** 4/5

We Are Little Zombies screened on July 16th as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

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