Saturday, September 01, 2012

From Fantasia to iTunes: Schoolgirl Apocalypse

Archery is hot in movies these days.  Following hot on the heels of The Avengers and Brave comes American expat filmmaker John Cairns’ newest Japanese zombie movie.  Yes, it is just like those other films.  It even has animation.  After announcing itself to the western world at this year’s Fantasia Festival, Cairns’ Schoolgirl Apocalypse (trailer here) is now available for your downloading pleasure at iTunes.

Sakura studies English in hopes leaving her provincial home for America.  She also practices Kyūdō at school.  Her sensei is less than encouraging, but to be fair, he has just turned into a zombie.  Apparently, this has happened to all the males formerly living in her coastal prefecture.  After several harrowing experiences with friends and family members, Sakura reaches a state of near emotional collapse.  However, she receives encouragement from Billy, the ginger haired boy from her beginning English book suddenly appearing in her animated dreams.  Following his subconscious guidance, Sakura finds the corporal Billy, his blind nurse, and their tormentor, the psychotic Aoi.  Then things get complicated.  Arrows will be involved.

What’s not to like about a Japanese schoolgirl going William Tell on a horde of rampaging zombies?  Yet, despite the sailor suit uniforms, Cairns is not indulging in the sort of fetishism one might suspect (sorry to disappoint).  Giving the battle of the sexes theme a decidedly twisted twist, Apocalypse is surprisingly existential and self-disciplined.  Indeed, it is rather skillfully executed, especially during the early scenes, as Sakura struggles to figure out the horror slowly unfolding around her.  Cairns uses silences, weird electronic sound effects, and the eerie emptiness of rural Japan to unsettling effect.  However, it is the trippy animated dream sequences that will really creep you out, evoking long repressed childhood memories of The Yellow Submarine and H. R. Pufnstuf.

Pop idol Higarino (a.k.a. Rino Higa) is also solidly engaging as the put-upon teen finding the wherewithal to survive.  It could even be considered empowering work for the target geek audience.  This isn’t exactly an acting showcase sort of film, but Mai Tsujimoto is convincingly fierce as Aoi, while the rest of the cast is game enough when it comes to getting bloody and dying.

In truth, Apocalypse liberally borrows elements of other genre films that would be spoilery to mention.  Though not quite as bloody as one might expect, it should well satisfy both zombie and archery fans.  Very dark but still fun, Schoolgirl Apocalypse is certainly worth checking out from the comfort of your laptop, where it is now available on digital VOD platforms, like iTunes.