A Girl in My Room (2022) by Natsuki Takahashi

After breaking up with his girlfriend of two years, Yo (Riku Hagiwara) is surprised to find another young woman (Shiori Kubo) in his room. However, his new guest turns out to be the ghost of a previous tenant who died there and whose spirit is tied to that apartment. Unable ot remember her own name, Yo names her Aisuke. After attempting to speak to the realtor about this unexpected turn of events, Yo finally comes to accept Aisuke’s presence and the two begin hanging out together. Yo’s co-worker suggests employing her aunt, a psychic, to perform a rite to drive Aisuke out of the apartment. But Yo’s burgeoning feelings for Aisuke leave him conflicted.

Written and directed by Natsuki Takahashi and based on the manga by Chugaku Yamammoto, “A Girl in My Room” is a charming, light-hearted supernatural romantic comedy, setting up a perfect odd couple in Yo and Aisuke. There is a poignancy to their relationship, seperated as they are by the line between life and death, but the similarity in age means that for the most part we have a conventional love story. We see Aisuke advising Yo on where he went wrong in his last relationship, while Yo tries desperately to come up with a solution to this unexpected occurance. The two actors have great chemistry together, with their spirited conversations being a highlight of the film. Riku Hagiwara’s hapless romantic lead learns to care for Aisuke in a way that he was never able to with his previous girlfriend. He also has some great comic moments with the realtor (Shohei Uno) as he attempts to explain his situation. Shiori Kubo (a member of girl-group Nogizaka 46) is charismatic and entertaining as Aisuke, with her regional dialect and casual manner. The plot develops in a familiar way, but with the lingering sense of unease about Aisuke’s eventual fate.

As romantic ghost stories go, “A Girl in My Room” provides us with plenty of heart and laughs. It sticks close to the two protagonists as we see them grow closer to one another, learning what it means to care for someone. The film was shot on location in Onomichi, highlighting the charm of this city in Hiroshima prefecture. Essentially a twist on a traditional romantic comedy, with two characters thrown together by circumstance, the film’s casual, understated tone makes it a relaxing watch for fans of the genre.

Summer Time Machine Blues (2005) by Katsuyuki Motohiro

During a sweltering summer heatwave, members of a high-school science-fiction club find themselves in a pinch when they break the remote for the air-conditioning in their clubhouse. An unlikely hero arrives in the form of Tamura, a time-traveller from the future, whose time-machine may offer a solution to their problems. The group begin experimenting, zipping back and forward through time to attempt to fix the broken air-conditioning remote. However, they soon realise that their tampering with time may have unintended consequences.

“Summer Time Machine Blues” is a feel-good summer comedy that manages to spin a wild tale from a very simple premise. It takes a little time to get going with the opening sequence, showing the members of the club playing baseball and at the local baths, providing an introduction to the characters. However, once the time-machine appears the pace picks up, with trips back into the first scenes making great use of the concept and low-budget, largely showing things from different angles or how seemingly innocuous events were caused by their time-travelling. Largely set around the clubhouse, the film manages to tie things together in a satisfactory way, explaining even the most minor details as due to their actions. The older cast seem out-of-place playing the childish students and the comedy is often rather forced, but the energetic plot and the way the film weaves together the narrative with characters in different time periods makes for an enjoyable watch. There is fun to be had in noticing details from earlier reoccuring in later scenes and realising the connections between their actions and consequences.

Time-travel always provides an interesting element to a film, with its related possibilities and paradoxes. The creators of “Summer Time Machine Blues”, clearly have a love for the genre and fit in many of these familiar ideas (the film includes “Back to the Future” showing at a local cinema). By taking such a ridiculous reason for travelling back, to fix the air-con remote, the film punctures the often pretentious nature of such narratives, with ideas of fate and free will seeming somewhat grandiose when set aside such an everyday concern. The story has a lighthearted feel that doesn’t concern itself overly with thematic depth or even character development; but works well as a summer farce.

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead (2023) by Yusuke Ishida

After landing his dream job, Akira (Eiji Akaso) finds that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Overworked and increasingly pressured by his agressive boss, Akira is overjoyed a year later when a virus outbreak sees Tokyo devastated by rampaging zombies. Realising that he no longer has to go to work, Akira begins making a bucket list of things he wants to do before turning into a zombie himself. He teams up with fellow survivor, Shizuka (Mai Shiraishi), a no-nonsense woman who is at first skeptical of Akira’s happy-go-lucky complacency; and also finds and rescues his University friend Kencho (Shuntaro Yanagi). The three of them set out to find an aquarium in Ibaraki that may be the last refuge of the living in this new world.

This horror comedy, based on the manga by Haro Aso and directed by Yusuke Ishida, moves at a good pace, setting up Akira’s disillusionment with his job and the familiar quotidian pressures of captialist societies. Much of the humour comes from the juxtaposition of the everyday with the grotesque horror elements. The zombie make-up is delightfully gory, with bulging veins and black blood pouring from their mouths. It is a thrill to see the zombie infested streets of Shinjuku and the Kabuki-cho district; and the characters taking refuge in the Don Quixote department store, with its array of cosplay and novelty goods. It has a similar feel to the “Alice in Borderland” sequel, particularly in its use of recognizable Tokyo environs twisted by the bizarre sitiuation. For the most part the film does a great job of balancing the horror with the comedy. In the final action-packed sequence it does tip into complete farce as they face off against one of the most unique CG monsters ever seen in a zobie movie. The zombies here appear to be animated by some evil spirit, contorting themselves as if they were puppets on unseen strings, rather than the shambling, easily avoided wrecks of yore. There is a perfunctory explanation for the outbreak, but for the most part the zombies are simply a narrative trigger for the protagonists who are more concerned with surviving than understanding the situation.

As with most zombie films, the survivors are forced to work together to escape the rampaging hordes, with themes of friendship and co-operation winning out over selfish individualism. But running throughout “Zom 100” is a striking critique of capitalism. It is hardly new to the genre, being a major part of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”, but here transposed to Japan, where death from overwork has been recognized as a serious problem, this theme has plenty of bite. The depiction of Akira’s company will be familiar to some degree to many people working for large businesses, with its uncaring attitude towards staff and unthinking push towards working people ever harder. Akira’s determination to do what he wants to do is compelling and will appeal to many, although it is depressing that it takes almost the entire population being turned into zombies to allow the remaining humans to live with such freedom. When he finally meets up with other survivors, he discovers that they have ordered themselves in a manner similar to what he believed they had just escaped. The humans have willingly sacrificed their own freedoms to become part of the operation run by Akira’s former boss Kosugi (Kazuki Kitamura), who has happily taken on the role of dictator. There is a distressing sense that humankind is doomed to this destructive way of living, the weak dominated by the strong and personal freedom being subjugated by the will of the rich and powerful. A fun horror comedy that offers a glimpse of freedom in a society overrun by mindless zombies.

The Violence Action (2022) by Toichiro Ruto

An undercover assassin is tasked with taking on a dangerous Yakuza syndicate in this comic-book crime caper. Kei (Kanna Hashimoto) works as an killer-for-hire, with dual cover as a University student and call-girl working out of a ramen shop. This compilation of Japanese pop-culture action cinema tropes extends is completed with a wacky side-kick with a bullet-proof wig (Takashi Okamura), a love-lorn fellow student who traipses after her; over-the-top gangsters led by a dad-joke loving boss; a villain possessed of supernatural martial prowess; Kei’s fellow assassin, the sniper Daria (Yuri Ota); love hotels; warehouse fights; gangland shootings; and a handsome, morally dubious love-interest.

“The Violence Action” is based on the comic book by Shin Sawada and Renji Asai. The film adaptation, written and directed by Toichiro Ruto, co-writte by Itaru Era, suffers from two major issues. One is the tonal inconsistency, shifting gears from slapstick comic action (bullet-proof wigs; aerobatic gunfights) to ultra-violent scenes (albeit with CG blood) including people being shot with a nail-gun. The puerile humour twinned with the mature tone is reflective of a trend in pop-culture of infantilisation; merging entertainment for kids and adults. Children’s films become more violent, while adult films are stripped of emotional depth. This results in what we have with “The Violent Action”, a film that never seems sure of what it is doing, other than throwing as many elements from other enjoyable films into the pot and giving it a stir. The issue with this is that you are consistently reminded of better films. The second failing of the film is in its headache-inducing editing, with hyperactive cuts that are unnecessary, giving it a music-video style that adds nothing to the drama. Unfortunately, these cuts are often use to disguise a lack of technical ability in the cinematography, the rapid cuts perhaps seen as the lesser of two evils by the director. The film suffers by comparison to “Baby Assassins” (2021), which managed to establish some degree of character for its protagonists and pulled off the comic-action vibe much better.

It is hard to know if the film is aiming for a B-movie feel, many elements would suggest this, but even if it were it still fails to create significantly outrageous set-pieces that would allow it to pass in the genre of more wacky action films. There is such a confusion of plot lines (an assassin questioning her choices; a leadership struggle within the Yakuza; a man double-crossing the mob; a love-sick teenage boy lusting after a dangerous girl; the sniper with a dark past; the hospitalized friend and dreams of revenge), all of which have been done before, and none of which are given enough time here to become the main focus. “The Violence Action” is akin to flipping through a series of action movie trailers, getting a brief impression of each one, but no consistent plot or memorable characters.

Tokyo Living Dead Idol (2018) by Yuki Kumagai

When the lead singer of a popular idol group, Tokyo 27-ku, is bitten by a zombie, she has 72 hours to find a cure before the virus transforms her. Miku (Nana Asakawa) comes off stage with her bandmates, Moe (Yumeri Abe) and Yuri (Runa Ozawa), arguing about their performance. After starting as underground idols the trio are beginning to gain popularity. However, this is put on hold when a zombie takes a bite out of Miku’s arm. Miku flees, with police sent out to search for her, and teams up with a small-time detective (Shogen). The two of them set out to find Dr. Kumozawa (Koichi Takamatsu) and Alicia (Chisato Koizumi), whose blood is rumoured to be a cure for the zombie virus. They must also evade the attentions of the Zombie Hunters, who roam the streets of Tokyo.

“Tokyo Living Dead Idol”, written and directed by Yuki Kumagai, brings a few new elements to the zombie mythology. In this tale the zombie infection takes three days before beginning to rot the brain core and turn people into the flesh-eating monsters we all know. This gives an impetus to the story as Miku races to find a solution to her problem before it is too late. For this low-budget film it also means they can largely avoid having to do large crowd shots of rampaging zombies, with the populace here appearing largely unphased by the occasional infection. The film does feature a few entertaining, anime-inspired, fight sequences, with katana-weilding zombie hunters; and the inclusion of parkour zombies is another fun addition. The plot is workmanlike, establishing several threads and tying them all together neatly, albeit sometimes without much fanfare (as in the case of Miku’s reunion wiht her bandmates at the end of the film). The comedy is largely in the dialogue and situations, with some of the best moments coming through off-hand remarks. Not all of the jokes land and the horror is sometimes undermined by overuse of CG blood rather than practical effects, but the final third provides an action-packed and emotionally fulfilling climax.

The blend of two popular subcultures, idols and zombies, is unique and entertaining. Miku is not a typical heroine, being portrayed as arrogant and disrespectful to her bandmates early on we are nevertheless sympathetic when she is bitten. Miku, Moe and Yuri are played by members of the Idol Group Super*Girls, which lends some believability to their performances. The film comments on government corruption, with the man developing the zombie viruses in kahoots with the department responsible for controlling them; the cure being withheld from the population until such time as it is financially beneficial for the government to release it. “Tokyo Living Dead Idol”, with its unique protagonist, also includes characters such as the two idol fans who want to protect Miku. These are contrasted later with a group of zombies who fetishise her, interested only in her sex appeal. It is an interesting concept, the positive and negative aspects of fan culture, also emphasised by one of the Zombie Hunters who turns out to be a huge fan of Tokyo 27-ku. This theme is never fully developed, but it provides an interesting angle to the traditional zombie story. The ‘mindless’ nature of much of the entertainment industry and fandom. “Tokyo Living Dead Idol” is a unique take on zombie lore, with the inclusion of idols and a countdown to becoming a zombie creating a fast-paced, horror-comedy for fans of B-movie action.