Oh, hey, it’s almost October, and the month-long celebration of the spooky… granted, that’s really more around Obon in Japan, but American pop-culture is starting to give cosplayers an extra excuse around Halloween there as well. Anyway, we’ve already talked about Japanese vampire, witch, and werewolf media, but never touched on zombie stuff. There’s a single reason for this – there’s a lot of it! In fact, if you were to watch a Japanese zombie flick every day for a month, you wouldn’t come close to exhausting all your options.
Hey, that’s not a bad idea, actually. Let’s do a rundown of a few recommendations, and don’t worry, I’ll keep it to more or less standard zombies (even though this is Maser Patrol and every impulse is to include Giant Monsters All-out Attack‘s Godzilla and the titans from Attack on Titan). Due to the gory subject matter, consider a blanket NSFW across this whole list.
1. Shinsengumi of the Dead (2014): Samurai and zombies are natural enemies, but this is the only movie I know to focus on that exclusively.
2. NEET of the Living Dead/The Last Will (2015): These two played double-feature, so I’ll lump them together. The former has a hikkikomori get bitten, but his mom keeps taking care of him. The second is a similar premise (a wife caring for her zombie husband), but it’s a little more serious in tone.
3. Schoolgirl Apocalypse (2011): A gritty post-outbreak survival story featuring a high school girl. It’s less splattery than most on this list, but more brutal.
4. Z: Endless Hope (2014): Based on the manga Z, which is a pain to search for. I dig the uniform/eye-patch/naginata aesthetic.
5. Oh my Z! (2015): A quirky comedy about a neighborhood coping with a zombie that’s trapped in one of their nearby houses, in a post-zombie world.
6. Deadman Inferno (2015): Yakuza regular Sho Aikawa battles zombies on an island; a solid mix of action and comedy.
7. Reiko the Zombie Shop (2004) : There’s a whole trilogy based on this manga about schoolgirl necromancers. It’s a disturbing read, but the live-action takes the edge off a little.
8. Lust of the Dead (2011): Media Blasters managed to get a whopping five of these sex comedies onto the US market, so it’d be rude not to bring them up.
9. Attack Girls Swim Team vs the Undead (2007) : Exactly what it sounds like, bathing suits a plenty. Also, lesbians.
10. Battle Girl: Living Dead in Tokyo Bay (1991) : Daiei’s sort of combination of Land of the Dead with Escape from New York, only with a female protagonist sent beyond the zombie wall.
11. Resident Evil: Degengeration (2008): The first of a few CGI animated tie-ins to the games, followed by RE:Damnation and RE: Vendetta. If you don’t play the games these movies may be inscrutable.
12. Dead Rising (2010) Without Frank West, is it really Dead Rising? Maybe not, but the movie still has a very game-like aesthetic, and the ability to combine weapons ridiculously.
13. Down to Hell (1997): Ryuhei Kitamura’s debut picture, it lays the groundwork for Versus. It doesn’t have the polish or the style of the later film, but the same setting/premise, so the later movie’s arguably a sequel.
14. Zombie Self Defense Force (2006) – a military vs. undead flick that I prefer over the swim team one, but not as much as the zombie hunter one.
15. Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead (2011) : Poop-covered zombies hides in the crapper, because this is a high-brow movie.
16. Samurai Zombie (2008) : Tak Sakaguchi directing a movie directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, it’s very much Versus-inspired. The armor that the zombies wear is a nice touch, though.
17. Miss Zombie (2013) : Sabu’s artsy flick about zombies as pets and servants, it’s less about surviving the outbreak and more about obeying the rules…”do not let her taste meat!”
18. Battlefield Baseball (2003) : Yudai Yamaguchi’s insane sports comedy has the rival team full of zombies for some reason. I guess a lot of the Versus crew was involved?
19. Junk (2000): A heist movie that gets interrupted by a zombie outbreak, Junk was one of the biggest Japanese zombie flicks back in the day, but never became quite the classic that some of its contemporaries did.
20. Onechanbara the Movie (2008): Adapting the video game with chicks in fetishistic attire swinging swords. The super moves looks pretty accurate, but may put people off if they’re not used to characters randomly glowing when jumping around. There’s also the sequel Onechanbara Vortex.
21. Helldriver (2010): A Yoshihiro Nishimura movie, with all of the silly splattery gore that that entails. Another femme fatale in this one, and she has to fight her evil zombie-master mom.
22. Happiness of the Katakuris (2001): Takashi Miike’s musical comedy about a family that accidentally racks up quite a body count. There’s a little undead goodness in it, too.
23. Tokyo Zombie (2005): A comedy based on a manga, dealing with a a duo of amoral slackers escaping the zombie outbreak caused by a huge landfill in the center of town. Some neat animated exposition bits.
24. Zombie Hunter Rika (2008): With action sequences handled by Versus‘s Tak Sakaguchi, this schoolgirl with an arm transplant from a famous zombie slayer kicks a lot of butt. The Japanese title translates to “Strongest Weapon High School Girl Rika: Zombie Hunter Vs. Most Evil Zombie Grorian”, which is a heckofa mouthful.
25. Big Tits Zombie 3D (2010) : Can’t you tell how classy this flick is based on the title? It’s strippers fighting the undead with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
26. Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (2009): Apparently it took 15 years to complete (only a few of the shots really show it), but they nailed it as a throwback to the feel of the original Evil Dead.
27. Survive Style 5+ (2004): An anthology of five interlocking stories, one of which involves a dude repeatedly killing his wife, only to have her return and try to murder him each evening. It’s quite a ride.
28. I am a Hero (2015): Rather than the funny camp action of most of this list, I am a Hero is legit horror. A superb thing to throw back in the face of those folks who claim any movie based on a manga is bad, to boot.
29. Stacy (2001): Mostly about a society that has to deal with their schoolgirls turning into zombies. Apparently one of the cultural adaptations is special “Blues Campbell” brand chainsaws!
30. Versus (2000): Ryuhei Kitamura’s ultra-cool flick is style over substance (literally none of the characters even have names), but it’s two hours of gloriously amazing style. It’s about a gang of criminals killing each other in the woods, along with zombies (the zombies aren’t the real threat of the picture, though, it’s the martial arts badasses. The zombies are sort of there like the Italians in World War 2 that way.).
31. Wild Zero (1999): Guitar Wolf’s rock-&-roll opus is not one to be missed. There’s aliens, pompadours, transvestites, leather jackets, motorcycles that shoot flames out the back, guitar swords, and many forms of love. It’s the quintessential crowd-pleasing exploitation movie, and the over-the-top characters are pretty much a goldmine for reaction images. How many DVDs include their own drinking game?
Whew! Well, that may be a lot, but it’s still just scratching the surface; there’re quite a few out there that didn’t make the cut.
While we’re at it, though, how about some Nihonbie television? There’s Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, High School of the Dead, Sailor Zombie, Sankarea, and, depending on if you want to avoid spoilers maybe watch School Live because it might or might not be about zombies. Then there’s individual episodes of Space Dandy, The Great Horror Family, Panty & Stocking…. even that one Urusei Yatsura episode. Yeah, I got an Urusei Yatsura nod into this. Bite me.