(The Vintage Tempest)
We Are Little Zombies is a misleading title. While the situation borders on black comedy, perhaps the terror lays in what four 10-year-old tweens are facing: isolation. When they have to face grief at the loss of their parents, just how they react is a complex mix of juxtapositions worth studying. Writer/director Makoto Nagahisa tosses a lot of imagery at viewers. It’s like watching FLCL for the first time.
Hikari (Keita Ninomiya), Ikuko (Sena Nakajima), Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno) and Takemura (Mondo Okumura) can give Wednesday Addams a run for her money. They have no hope for their immediate future. When nobody seems to want them, relatives included (they are suspiciously missing in this narrative) all they have are each other. They met at the crematorium and after a lengthy backstory told in flashbacks, they decide to form a band. Their idea to express their life through music–which I have to label bubblegum punk.
Their DIY rock concert is perfect to vocalize their pain. They got the moxie. They are–as the film’s adults call ’em–EMO.
To get to seeing them perform takes time, and despite the band having terrible harmony, the music is catchy. It helps give the songs weight as Hikari (the lead singer) expresses all that pain that he could not emote before.
These youths are Little Zombies. When they get the attention of music producers, the thought of them becoming the next The Beatles is implied. Even the narrative points to this direction and Nagahisa may have been borrowing from the movie Magical Mystery Tour as inspiration. He even has a moment referencing a strawberry (actually, it’s the name of their tour) field. While meanings are changed, noticing the British Invasion influence had me looking carefully for an Abbey Road moment in the streets of Japan.
With cinematic psychedelia painted all over this work and 8 bit video game inter-titles to separate the acts, I was enamoured with the construction of this film. The narrative is dreamlike. Despite a long run time, the latter half made more sense to me than the opening act. Secretly, I hoped Hikari, the main protagonist/narrator, is simply having a nightmare; he’ll wake up to find his parents alive and all the attention about retro video games is his way of coping with the separation anxiety.
Instead, the rainbow connection these youths eventually discover is something else. I won’t spoil what happens. Instead, I do have to warn audiences of the trick end credits sequence. Much like many a comic book film these days, there is a mid and end credits scene to wrap the story up. In what’s revealed will at least get some smiling.
4 Stars out of 5
This film played at Fantasia 2019, July 16th. For a screening near you, please check out your local film festival or art house theatre listing.