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Tokyo Zombie’s lost boys & angry women

Wednesday 23rd March 2011

Helen McCarthy takes on Japan's walking dead in Tokyo Zombie.

Tokyo ZombieTadanobu Asano is a magnificent actor, the Toshiro Mifune of his generation. He works with great directors – Takashi Miike, Nagisa Oshima, Takeshi Kitano. He can play comedy and tragedy, is comfortable in physical and contemplative roles. He’s even making his mark on screens outside his own country, with roles in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Peter Berg’s upcoming Battleship.

Like Mifune’s, Asano’s career embraces both serious cinema and the kind often described as disposable. Tokyo Zombie falls into the second category, but don’t pass it by: it’s disposable, yes; flawed, definitely; enjoyable, massively.

Based on the manga by Yusaku Hanakuma, Tokyo Zombie is the story of two downtrodden workers with a passion for ju-jitsu.  Asano shows little of the effortless cool that led Spanish newspaper El Mundo to label him “Johnny Depp’s Japanese cousin” – he’s an Afro-haired dork named Fujio. His bald co-worker Mitsuo (actor-composer Show Aikawa) trains him to fight. They get more fight practice than they bargained for when an army of the undead shambles from a toxic waste dump to rip Japanese society apart.

The buddy-movie beginning looks set to segue into a road movie, but a twist separates the odd couple and pushes us straight into post-apocalyptic territory via an animated interlude. Five years down the line, Tokyo is a feudal nightmare where rich survivors live in protected enclaves, enslaving the poor and forcing them to fight captive zombies for entertainment. Fujio uses the skills his old friend taught him to stay alive and keep his new family safe, but there’s a Mitsuo-shaped gap in his life. The relationship is so brilliantly written and acted that the interplay between the two characters goes on, despite the absence of one of them for a good chunk of the film.

The brilliance is uneven. The gags veer from inspired to gross. The mix of live action, animation, screwball humour and lo-fi sfx is choppy and occasionally annoying. Yet the movie’s heart, the relationship between two likeable losers, is strong and solid. Asano and Aikawa create humanity out of absurdity, credibility out of confusion. Despite the zombie apocalypse, the film has more comedy than gore, because the zombie motif is just an excuse.

Tokyo Zombie is a bleak allegory of modern Japan, where whining, emasculated men and disengaged youth grovel to overbearing women old and young, a gerontocracy where the ultimate symbol of the State is a helpless retard. The women in the movie, dead or alive, are aggressive, unsentimental and terrifyingly adult. The men are passive, infantile and fixated on each other.

This is not a horror movie. It’s a film about growing up, embracing responsibility and accepting that you can’t outrun, or fight off, death without also losing the things that make life worth living – friendship, love and the ability to choose, if not your own path, then at least the way you walk it. Tokyo Zombie delivers a lot of fun, but at its heart is a big question: what happens next for Japan?

Tokyo Zombie is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.


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One Piece. Pieces of Hate

Been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt....
Of the anime titles turned into T-shirts by Uniqlo, One Piece is the biggest – the reigning king of all the anime and manga franchises, pretty much unchallenged in the 16 years since Eiichiro Oda began the manga, and 14 since Toei Animation started animating it. But perhaps Uniqlo would have turned One Piece into a line of shirts even if the saga hadn’t been a world hit. Just look at those pirate designs – brash, cartoony, uncompromising. There’s no whiff of a committee, no hint of a five-year product plan reliant on changing a heroine’s hair colour (or deepening her cleavage). It just helps that the pictures are as commercial when they move as they are when they’re a cool static graphic in a manga, or on the front of a T-shirt.

One Piece: Strong World

The Straw Hats Pirates come together for an adventure like no other...
Written by One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda himself, Strong World leads the Straw Hats into the deadly path of Golden Lion Shiki.

One Piece - ninja or pirates?

Matt Kamen turns video pirate!
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One piece: Crew Manifest #1

Matt Kamen finds out who’s who in the One Piece anime
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Back at sea for volume two of One Piece
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One Piece music: TOMATO CUBE

Tom Smith on One Piece’s TOMATO CUBE
One-hit wonders. Every country has them. And, as PSY can most likely attest, very few musicians really want to be labelled as one. Sure, it’s all fun, games and fancy dinners when that royalty cheque floats through the letter box. The one with all the zeroes from that single from yesteryear that went massive. But what about the rest of your work? It must be somewhat unsatisfying as an artist to be known for one track, while everything else remains relatively overlooked, and expectations are high for that difficult follow up single. If you’re TOMATO CUBE, you do nothing. Ever again.


Wrinkles vs Roujin Z

Animation for the old... there's only one way to settle this... FIGHT!
Wrinkles is a new grown-up Spanish animated film about elderly people in a care home. Hang on a bit, that can’t be right. Animation and the elderly; they’re two things which have nothing to do with each other. Well, except for...
This week we have three exciting releases for you! What will you be buying?
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Fairy Tail: Phoenix Priestess

Anime’s answer to the summer blockbusters
This is the perfect summer blockbuster movie, as well as a textbook example of how to do a spin-off feature just right. Modern-day Hollywood could learn a lot from Phoenix Priestess, even as it sticks to lessons from an older version of the American Dream Factory.

London Ghibli Season

BFI announce a festival of Miyazaki, Takahata, et al...
The BFI South Bank cinema in London will be screening a Studio Ghibli season throughout April and May. Curator Justin Johnson will be giving an introduction to Ghibli on the 2nd April, followed by screenings of all the major Ghibli works and a number of relative obscurities
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