“We Are Little Zombies” Finds Surprising Influence In Video-Games

When you hear what We Are Little Zombies is about, the concept that it could have more than a little bit of influence from the world of video-games may come as a shock. After all, the story of a quartet of kids bonding over the mutual loss of their parents is hardly something that suggests 8-bit fun. However, it’s a credit to writer/director Makoto Nagahisa that it somehow just makes sense. Now, this may not be for everyone, but if the unusual marriage of content and style, filtered through a singular tone, works for you, this is going to really float your boat.

The film is a mix of drama and dramedy elements, telling the story of four children going through something both terrible and also fairly stirring. Hikari (Keita Ninomiya), Ikuko (Sena Nakajima), Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno), and Takemura (Mondo Okumura) first meet, they’ve each just become orphans. However, despite the massive loss, none of the group seems upset. They claim that they’re like zombies, lacking emotion and unable to shed a tear. Teenagers being teenagers, they opt to treat this almost like a video-game, so this becomes the first level of their adventure. Eventually, that leads to the formation of a band, with a song called We Are Little Zombies, taking Japan, and then the world, by storm. And that’s just where things kick into gear, though the details are better left for you to find out. Suffice to say, there’s a lot here. Nagahisa directs and penned the screenplay, as well as handles the music, with cinematography from Hiroaki Takeda. Supporting players include Rinko Kikuchi, among others.

From the Nintendo-inspired opening credits to the soundtrack, not to mention entire sequences, it all has the flair of an old-school game. The video-game style is an odd fit for a drama/dramedy about grief (or at least orphans), but somehow, it works. One would expect the fit to be an odd one, but filmmaker Makoto Nagahisa believes in the premise enough to pull it off. Now, it’s not flawless, as we’ll mention below, but the good certainly outweighs the bad, including a hell of a catchy song in the title track (though they’re all pretty solid). If nothing else, the positives are far more memorable than the negatives, and that makes all the difference in the end.

We Are Little Zombies has a few issues, which the video-game style can’t fully paper over. For one, the movie is way too long, clocking in at two hours. The premise suggests something shorter, and the pacing is far too lax. For another, the performances don’t quite capture your imagination as much as the premise and the filmmaking do. It’s a credit to Nagahisa that this isn’t a fatal flaw, but lacking characters you’ll fall in love with is a problem. Some of that is intentional, but that makes it all somewhat more of an experiment than a completely engaging narrative. Again, none of this is enough to ruin things, but it’s all worth taking note of.

Starting today, if you’re in the mood for something different, We Are Little Zombies has certainly got you covered. Watching young Japanese orphans form a pop band as an avenue for teen angst and grief is unlike anything else being offered in the marketplace right now. It won’t be for everyone, but adventurous viewers might as well give it a shot. Love it or hate it, you won’t find it boring, that’s for sure. Give it a shot and see what you think…

Be sure to check out We Are Little Zombies, available to watch now!

(Photos courtesy of Oscilloscope)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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