Technically, they are not zombies in the Walking Dead sense. They are zombies like the “She’s Not There” British invasion rock band. Of course, they are a kiddie band, but they have grown up awfully fast. Death has brought them together and death might just be what breaks them apart in Makoto Nagahisa’s We Are Little Zombies, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Death will be their constant companion. As fate dictates, the four youngsters meet at the crematorium hosting their parents’ funerals—that’s right, all eight of them. Yet, strangely, they feel little emotion, which even they find somewhat odd. Instead, they band together, trashing their apartments and taking refuge on the streets. They have contempt for the future, living only in the now.
Of course, their stories are uniquely awful. Hikari Takami’s parents died when their tour bus had a fatal collision. They had been hoping to save their marriage by taking a strawberry lovers’ tour (at least they managed to avoid a divorce). Yuki Takemura’s parents committed suicide to escape their creditors. Shinpachi Ishi’s parents were killed in a gas fire at their greasy wok restaurant. Ikuko Ibu’s ‘rents were murdered by her stalker music teacher, because he thought she wanted him to do it—and maybe she did. Ibu is the oldest of the four, so naturally the boys all develop a crush on her.
Yet, it will be Takami who leads their band, “The Little Zombies,” filtering his Gameboy soundtracks through old school synthesizer modulators. Their street performances go viral, launching them to pop idol status, but you can guess the path of their career trajectory.
Little Zombies is not a horror movie, but it is definitely a massive cult film. With its intrusive 8-bit soundtrack and seizure-inducing rapid-editing, it is like an all-out assault on the senses. It is an exhausting film, but you have to respect Nagahisa’s ability to maintain the breakneck lunacy. Even if it makes your eye-sockets bleed, it is a heck of an accomplishment. As an added bonus, Nagahisa’s screenplay is riddled with clever, postmodern breakings of the fourth wall and self-referential wackiness.
Frankly, it is pretty amazing how deadpan Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, and Sena Nakajima remain, despite the maelstrom of insanity swirling around them. It is a different sort of performance, maintaining stoic discipline rather than emoting, but they fulfill their duties faithfully. Recommended for fans of Sion Sono at his most out-there, We Are Little Zombies screens again tonight (1/28), Thursday (1/31), and Saturday (2/2) in Park City and Friday (2/1) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance.