We Are Little Zombies

The Japanese import We Are Little Zombies captures the anarchic feel of youth, when anything is possible, rules are made to be broken, and no dream is too big. The film is intentionally structured to be a great big mishmash of styles and tones to replicate that energy. Watching it run on “ten” for two straight hours proves a tiny bit exhausting in spots, yet more often feels exhilarating. I've certainly never seen anything quite like it. Anyone in search of something really unique should absolutely give the movie a look.

The main character is Hikari (Keita Ninomiya). He's an emotionally-stunted video game-obsessed boy whose parents have died in a bus accident. He meets three other kids with newly-deceased moms and dads: Takemura (Mondo Okumura), Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno), and Ikuko (Sena Nakajima), the lone girl. Rather than going to live with relatives, they join together, determined to fend for themselves. After a night spent in an area where homeless people congregate, Hikari and associates decide to start a rock band called Little Zombies. Their insanely catchy song and accompanying video go viral, so a record label signs them, exploiting their shared tragedy in the process. That causes them to become an overnight sensation, setting off a ripple effect of problems.

What kind of movie is We Are Little Zombies? Basically, every kind. Young orphans dealing with the deaths of their parents is obviously dramatic. At the same time, there's a fair amount of comedy in here. Sometimes the film is shot like a horror movie, while other times, there are splashy musical numbers. A science-fiction quality intermittently seeps in, too.

On top of all that, writer/director Makoto Nagahisa works overtime to keep viewers on their toes visually. He employs all kinds of camera and editing techniques. Among them are split screen, transitioning between scenes with video game graphics, black-and-white photography, lighting tricks, repeated images, and dream sequences. Scenes of different tones bump right up against each other, ensuring that you don't know what to expect from minute to minute. Unpredictability is one of the greatest pleasures in We Are Little Zombies.

The more you know about video games, the more there is to enjoy. Nagahisa presents the story as though it's one of the games Hikari is preoccupied with. Each of the characters has to go on an “object quest,” and the plot builds up to a confrontation with the “final boss.” That's in addition to the graphics that populate the screen and the 8-bit video game musical score. The point seems to be that life without adult supervision can only be accomplished if Hikari pretends to be a hero in one of those games, setting out on a life-altering quest. By his own admission, his mother and father indulged his hobby to keep him out of their hair, so in a sense he's learned more from gaming than from parenting.

We Are Little Zombies is a very busy film, yet also one that doesn't let you grow bored for a single second. Creativity oozes from every scene, the child actors all give sincere performances, and the songs will get stuck in your head. This crazy, offbeat, cuckoo-nutty picture offers the sensation that something new and different is continually around the corner. I loved falling under its spell.

out of four

We Are Little Zombies is unrated, but contains mature themes and brief language. The running time is 2 hours.