Original title: Nihon bundan: Heru doraibâ
Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura
Starring: Yumiko Hara, Eihi Shiina, Kazuki Namioka
When I first saw Yoshihiro Nishimura's breakout film Tokyo Gore Police, I was excited. I thought here's a director with some GREAT ideas, an eye for constructing jaw-dropping set pieces, and an anarchistic approach to film-making that totally suited my twisted sensibilities. What could this guy do with more budget, more experience, and a better script? I couldn't wait.
That was 2008. Since then he's helmed 3 more movies. The first was 2009's Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, and even then I lamented that it was just more of the same. But it was an ok flick, and I still held hope that his masterpiece might be just around the corner. His next was titled 'Mutant Girls Squad', which admittedly doesn't sound like a masterpiece, and wasn't.
And now we have his latest film, Helldriver. If you've seen any of the previous three, the verdict is once again - more of the same. Except now the novelty has worn off and is starting to resemble a rut.
This time around, the Northern part of Japan has been hit with a zombie infection by way of alien invasion, and has been walled off to protect the rest of the country. In a sly jab at political correctness and slimeball politicians, it's not long before there are calls to protect the 'human rights' of the zombies. It's a clever touch, but about as deep as the social commentary gets.
What follows is balls-out zombie-dispensing mayhem with the usual top notch splatter effects mixed with equally amateurish ones. There are moments of visual brilliance, some great set pieces, and enough blood and severed body parts to fill 382 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It's all extremely over-the-top, contrived to shock, and very, very silly.
Which can be fun! But the problem here is that the script mines a well-worn zombie scenario, while bringing little new to the table beyond the shock and gore that Nishimura (a special effects guy by trade) is so well known for. There's smatterings of humour throughout, and even a little 'ero' to go with the 'guro' (which I think is a first for Nishimura, and welcomed). But nowhere near enough for a 2hr long movie with a plot that could be written on a paper napkin.
For this viewer at least, two hours of inventive splatter is just not enough to retain my interest. There needs to also be a good story, or great acting, or lots of humour ... hell, an oversupply of nudity wouldn't hurt the cause either. And if all of the above were to be thrown in at once, THEN we'd be talking about a pony with more than one trick!
The other problem is that the film feels like a 45 minute movie, with bits tacked on at front and back to flesh out the runtime. This isn't helped by the decision to run the title sequence a full 45 minutes into the movie! I don't know if this was an intentional quirk playfully thrown in by Nishimura to break convention, or whether he is in fact implying that he had nothing to do with the first 45, and that this is where 'his' movie really starts. Because basically the first 45 minutes are crap. I recommend skipping them entirely.
And then half an hour from the end, the movie grinds to a natural conclusion, only to kick-start itself back into action for a redundant further half hour. I would not be at all surprised to learn that Nishimura only worked on the middle 45 mins, with the remainder being jobbed out to a junior director. Especially as IMDB has Nishimura listed as 'special effects supervisor' on no less than 33 films in the last three years - no doubt his time is limited!
And so was the budget it seems. Many scenes come across as unfinished and/or rushed, there are some awful visual effects, and what seem like glaring continuity problems. Even within the context of b-grade J-splatter, the limited budget is more visible than you'd expect.
On the plus side, Eihi Shiina (Audition, Tokyo Gore Police) has a major role here, and that's always good in my book - even if she spends a majority of the movie buried beneath less-than-flattering zombie makeup and/or blood. B-grade go-to girl Asami makes an appearance, as does Yukihide Benny. I don't know too much about lead actress Yumiko Hara, except to note that she has a fascinatingly large mouth! She has the physicality to pull off this kind of role, but not the presence that an actress of Eihi Shiina's calibre brings.
First-timers to the hyper-twisted world of Yoshihiro Nishimura may still have a blast with this, especially after a case of beer and with suitably low expectations! The middle 45 minutes are classic Nishimura - and there's a lot to love buried within its two-hour runtime. But I'm still waiting for that masterpiece that proves he's more than a special-effects wizard - ready and able to take up the mantle of driving a new wave of Japanese extreme cinema.