|Pros:Tongue in cheek zombie movie that really manages to pull off some crazy social satire. A heavy dose of J-pop culture and genuinely inventive film making going on in here. Very silly film and very haunting in some unexpected ways, which is a weird mix.Cons: Aagaaggg – what IS it about the Japanese and schoolgirls?? Plus, of course, enough blood and guts to make Sam Raimi wince.|
|DVD Details: Only available from the US in a Region 1 disk.|
The time is now – but definitely not the present. Girls (only girls) between the ages of 15 and 17 are succumbing to a mysterious condition that nobody really understands. It first manifests itself as a period of “Near Death Happiness”, leading to the victims wandering around in a deliriously happy, seemingly love-struck state. In fact they are almost becoming their own clichés in Japanese media and anime! The cute girls prancing gaily through their animated worlds, in love with everyone and everything. And it is this state of media-style perfection that leads directly to zombiehood. The artificial happiness doesn’t last and they eventually die. Only to transform into your familiar common or garden flesh-hungry zombies known as Stacys – but prettier than Romero’s kind. Covered with some shimmery material called “Butterfly Sparkle Powder” (I just love the way the Japanese can deliver lines like that with such perfect solemn seriousness!), their living dead faces still following that artificial media-glitz style – looking more like anorexic supermodels than ravening zombies. Is the zombie state a satirical jab at the unreal and glitzy images of media idolisation? Gawd almighty! Is this schoolgirl slasher actually containing feminist symbolism???? If so, then that is Unexpected Aspect No. 1. The first of many things that open up rather different philosophical avenues than a normal zombie flick is likely to.
And, surprise surprise, the stacys can only be destroyed by cutting them up into precisely 165 pieces (?), which is known as being “repeat killed”. Not surprisingly, all this has a certain effect on culture and society as families watch their daughters making the inevitable transformation and as the government struggles to find ways to deal with the situation without loosing their grip entirely on familiar normalcy or actually doing anything radical. It is here that the film is perhaps at its best – the little touches it uses to portray society dealing with this . . . The ads on tv. The official systems in place. People’s attitudes, which are still disturbingly normal. Trying to maintain a farcical semblance of law and order, it is carefully legislated that the only people allowed to destroy these zombies aside from the special squads set up for that purpose (known as the Romero Troops, ha ha!*) are family or boyfriends. However, in common with most government measures to deal with serious situations, the ‘stacy laws’ don’t work and there is a proliferation of illegal repeat killers who will do the job for you if you are desperate. There is even talk of making those special squads a kind of compulsory national service. In the film, one man does join such a squad on a desperate search for his beloved penfriend, now a stacy – a search that takes him to mad scientists laboratories and weird research facilities, and to the absolute depths of emotion hunting stacys in the streets. One scene – of half a dozen heavily armoured Romero soldiers howling their eyes out in a quiet suburban street over the sweet, philosophical, resignedly aware and very happy looking young girl that they will one day have to cut up into 165 pieces – has to rank as one of the oddest ever filmed.
* – This is very much an ‘in’ film, happy to fill itself with affectionate references to the genre. I am not a real expert on zombie films, but you cant really miss the Romaro references and (best of all) the huge nod to Bruce Campbell and his chainsaw from Evil Dead. Definitely moments worth a chuckle.
Meanwhile, a young puppeteer named Shibu-san has made a new friend. The ethereal and haunting Eiko, unfortunately entering the last stages of transformation into a stacy – the near death happiness. Its hard and strange to make friends with one in an ethereal state and on the way towards death – but Shibukawa finds himself drawn ever-closer to this happy doomed figure, though it is inevitable that this will be a tragic and very strange and pained relationship. Soon she has a favour to ask. She, understandably, would prefer to be cut up into small pieces by someone she knows and feels close to rather than by the stacy equivalent of dustbin men, which of course is against the law. Its a hard request to deal with, but how can you not agree to a thing like that? But the legal aspects are heading for redundant anyway as his attraction to this girl is developing into something much more than friendship*. Falling in love with the girl he will soon have to kill and dismember is no easy thing. His final declaration of his love is both heroic and touching in its classic Japanese sweetness . . .
Mr Rix, Mr Rix, Mr Rix – what are you TALKING about? Are you finally going nuts? What is this nonsense? Butterfly Sparkle Powder? And you’re taking it seriously? I know I know – do you think this is easy for me?? All I can say is that this is Japan – Just keep that fact before you at all times. Japan – a place where ‘nonsense’ and ‘taking it seriously’ are not always quite so clear-cut. Yes – I KNOW that by all western laws something like this shouldn’t be so intriguing. Maybe I am a strange and sentimental fool for probing beyond the surface of this to such a degree. Or maybe not. Interesting and intellectual is where you find it.
* – Please remember that Japan is a culture without such a huge watershed at the mystical age of 18 so the concept of a (pretty much platonic) romance between a young artist and a 16-17 year old is not going to be that strange or unnerving to them. Trust me – that is the LEAST disturbing part of this crazy film!
And what are we left with at the end? If nothing else, it is very nicely made. It is filled with little details that grab you and make you blink and a sometime wonderful aesthetic sense (the puppets and puppet show that Shibu-san puts on for instance, are mesmerising). It is filled with a sense of being lovingly put together and with strange touches of unexpected art. And even the somewhat hokey and extreme special effects work very nicely. There is a lot of puzzlement though – in my case anyway. Puzzlement as to the implications of what has just been watched! You are torn in many directions at once on many levels at once. Wanting to dismiss it as a silly zombie flick, but not quite able. Wanting to understand it, but not quite able. Somewhat freaked out by the sense of what I can only describe as ‘beautiful perversion’ and unsure just what the hell IS perverted about it precisely. Above all is that decidedly strange feeling left behind about culture’s idolization and perversion of young innocence (in terms of that hollow media glitz) and the feeling that, all along, the zombie genre may have portrayed a disease of the mind that is an inevitable reaction to civilization.
I think that love is the key though. That’s what this is – a love story! It really is. And that is Unexpected Aspect No. 2. Every thread of the story revolves around love – warm, strange, haunting love. Love Japanese style, which seems very different from ours in some ways. Love for stacys, love for people, love for young innocence, love for that very glitzy glamour that the film also seems to aim at, love for humanity in general, love leading to death and destruction and tragedy but still filled with warmth, even at its most twisted. What IS this? Exactly what levels is this thing taking place in? What is it trying to say? I don’t know – and possibly this confusion is a normal reaction of a British writer trying to get his head round some of the more far-out Japanese creations, which really don’t sit well with our own ways of thinking. Of course, you cant take a film about zombies covered in Butterfly Sparkle Powder seriously, can you! But I’ve said it before and I will say it again – this seemingly very silly film manages to kick hard right into some very deep, dark and uneasy places – places that most films wouldn’t dare to go. I guess that is a tribute to the Japanese way of making things – where ‘even’ a zombie schoolgirl slasher flick gets that special touch of something that transcends everything that you expect. It leaves me intrigued, and this site of mine is supposed to be about the ‘strange’, not merely the creatively weird – and this film is definitely strange.