Review by Sean Boelman
Though its title would almost suggest that it’s a new horror flick, Makoto Nagahisa’s ambitious directorial debut We Are Little Zombies is actually a crazy new dark comedy with a very distinctive voice. And despite the fact that it loses some of its steam heading into its final act, it ultimately sticks the landing to be a surprisingly touching watch.
The film follows four Japanese orphans who, after meeting at the crematorium where their respective parents’ funerals are being held, decide to form a rock band as a way to cope with their grief. This is far from an average indie band underdog story, though, as Nagahisa takes the tropes of the genre and deconstructs them in a way that is almost self-referential.
Admittedly, one of the movie’s biggest weaknesses is that it is so hyperactive that it can almost be difficult to follow at times. There is a lot going on in any given moment, making this a film that demands multiple viewings to make sure that one catches everything that it has to offer. This segmented nature can be frustrating at times, but also lends it a great deal of energy.
More energy is given to the movie by its vibrant and idiosyncratic visual style. Very obviously inspired by 8-bit video games, Nagahisa’s film is often bright and poppy, creating a stark juxtaposition with the undeniably dark subject matter that the story explores. Still, by creating this fantastic world, Nagahisa immerses the viewer in the emotion of the movie.
The script does a very good job of exploring these ideas in a way that is satisfying and sometimes hard-hitting. Yet even though it deals with issues that are traditionally “easy” targets for the heart strings of audiences, Nagahisa never falls back on the cheaper and more artificial methods of pulling on emotions.
There could have been more time spent with the other three bandmates, but the protagonist (who also narrates the film) is a very compelling character. Nagahisa’s take on youth feels entirely authentic and honest, selling even some of the more ridiculous and fantasy-based moments in the narrative.
All four of the leads — Keita Ninomiya, Mondo Okumura, Satoshi Mizuno, and Sena Nakajima — are super charming. Although the songs may not be “good” in a traditional sense, they’re catchy, and the four give a hell of a performance. The stars also have great chemistry together, making the friendship elements of the story work quite well.
We Are Little Zombies doesn’t quite hit all of its shots, but it works much more often than it doesn’t. For audiences looking for an uplifting and lively musical, Nagahisha’s movie will almost certainly scratch that itch.
We Are Little Zombies hits theaters and virtual cinemas on July 10. A list of participating locations can be found here.