Tokyo Zombie (Sakichi Sato, 2005)
Put Tadanobu Asano (Mongol) and Sho Aikawa (Ley Lines) in a movie based on a manga. Get Sakichi Sato, writer of some of Takashi Miike's most beloved movies (Ichi the Killer, Gozu) to direct. Throw in a very hot rising star, Erika Okuda (who has since scorched the screen in films like Topless), as the female lead. How can you go wrong? Well, you can, but if you take Tokyo Zombie for what it is, it's an amusing little ride.
Asano and Aikawa play Fujio and Mitsuo, a pair of slackers who work as garbagemen in a near-future Tokyo where the garbage problem has so gotten out of hand that the center of town is now a huge landfill known as Black Mt. Fuji. Black Mt. Fuji is a haven for those working outside the law, including the Yakuza (who use it as a body dump) and toxic waste dumpers, as well as job security for wastrels like Mitsuo, who'd rather spend all his time teaching Fujio jiu-jitsu, and Fujio, who'd rather spend all his time napping. Life goes on as usual until the toxic waste and the bodies get together, and everyone who's buried in Black Mt. Fuji starts rising from the dead. They infect others, and within a couple of months, zombies have taken over all of Tokyo save a few complexes where humans still live. The focus of the second half of the film is life in one of those complexes, where Fujio is now employed in the zombie pens, using the jiu-jitsu Mitsuo taught him to entertain the rich by fighting zombies in a makeshift arena.
When you read manga, which is episodic by nature, it's sometimes possible to see where the author got off track, and then decided to take the tangent and make it into an entire storyline. The film adaptation of Tokyo Zombie is the first time I've seen that tendency faithfully translated to the screen; the first and second halves of this movie could have been a Part 1 and Part 2, had each been long enough. In the manner of film-and-sequel, they're tangentially related by a few characters and the setting, but otherwise, they're different movies entirely. The disconnect between them is bridged by a long voiceover that gets kind of annoying after the first minute or so (it could have probably been replaced with a simple "fast-forward five years..."). The action itself is episodic as expected, but more, there's nothing really new here; the screenplay borrows heavily from a number of other zombie (or kinda-zombie) pictures of very recent vintage (this came out not long after 28 Days Later... and Land of the Dead, both of which are strongly referenced), and that does leave a sour taste in the mouth sometimes. Still, Asano and Aikawa are both actors who are capable of turning in strong performances no matter how bad the material they're working with, and they do so here. Okuda is gorgeous and shrewish, and Isao Ishii's cinematography has an appealing grubbiness to it, even before zombies take over the world. It's slapstick, and silly, but kind of appealing every now and then. ***