By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
*Screened at the 2016 Victoria Film Festival
The idea of having zombies shambling about in a steampunk world as slaves is a great concept to play with in the Japanese animated movie The Empire of Corpses. When technology made advanced leaps thanks to the success of Charles Babbage (the grandfather of computing) building the analytical engine, Victor Frankenstein reanimating a mix of dead body parts (he’s a real figure in this fictional world) and Duncan MacDougall discovering the deceased loses “21 grams” of mass (their soul) upon death, science fiction author Satoshi Itō (伊藤 聡) aka Project Itoh crafted a dystopian Victorian world-embracing death instead of fearing it.
In our historical understanding of this past, the preoccupation with the dead was because mortality rates were high; many loved ones passed before their time or in wars from afar. Séances were common because many people from around the British Commonwealth wanted to communicate with the deceased for many a reason. To talk to them again offered closure. These details might have been addressed on a deeper level in the novel but in the animated film, a fair bit of this age’s spiritualist practices are not as deeply explored. What’s exhumed is surface level.