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.

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