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Deadman Inferno
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by Jay Seaver

"A zombie outbreak and then some."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Even the biggest zombie movies tend to be pretty simple things, and I wouldn't necessarily say "Deadman Inferno" (aka "Z Island") was exactly complicated. It does have a fair amount more going on than is typical for this sort of movie, and writer/director Hiroshi Shinagawa keeps that up even after others would switch to all head shots, all the time. On top of that, he goes for laughs. It's a lot of material, more than the movie really needs, but when zombie movies are a dime a dozen, it's a way to make yours memorable.

Heck, the flashback that opens the movie doesn't even involve where the zombies came from, but a battle between yakuza gangs that leaves one gangster wounded and another arrested. Ten years later, Takashi (Shingo Tsurumi) is just getting out of prison, happy to be reunited with "big brother" Hiryoya Munakata (Sho Aikawa), who now works construction with Shinya (Red Rice), another former brother. He's less happy when he finds out that his daughter Hinata (Maika Yamamoto) has run off with her friend Seira (Erina Mizuno) rather than see him. Meanwhile, the yakuza who led the ambush ten years ago, Sorimachi (Yuichi Kimura) is being teamed with Kiyama (Hideo Nakano), a glorified accountant, to hunt down Akira Yoshida (Daisuke Miyagawa), a low-level thug who stole a bunch of drugs and left for girlfriend's home of Zeni Island, where he's cutting them with unusual stuff. So, guess which island Hinata's mother Sakura (Sawa Suzuki) says she's run off to?

A little subtitling or familiarity with a setting can make a big difference - I did not initially realize that the [former] yakuza were on the Japanese mainland while other characters were on an island until the two groups of gangsters actually got on a boat. It's an example of how I think Shinagawa maybe wanted to do a little more story-wise with this movie than he really had room for: There are a lot of characters and subplots to keep track of - a couple dozen once you figure in even more yakuza, island cops, doctors, and fishermen - and while it gives Shinagawa a bunch of folks to off or turn, it takes a bit of time to get there, and he sort of handwaves the zombies with "well, that's how it happens in the movies" (this does, however, lead to one of the film's funnier lines, as the horror-movie-loving doctor wonders whether it's walkers or runners).

Still, it's better to be ambitious than lazy, and Shinagawa and the cast create genuine affection for the large cast of characters, enough so that they can deliver a genuine gut punch in the middle of fairly comedic action. On top of that, Shinagawa's background as half of a comedy team has him a bit more attuned to giving characters back-and-forth banter to work with rather than just quips. The core group is especially good at that - there's excellent chemistry between Sho Aikawa, Shingo Tsurumi, Red Rice, and Sawa Suzuki no matter how they're put together, and the island group - Maika Yamamoto & Erina Mizuno as the schoolgirls, Yosuke Kubozuka as a trigger-happy cop, Shunsuke Kazama as the doctor, and Kunihiro Kawashima as a fisherman sure he's on a hidden-camera show - is very funny even when they're getting into the middle of some bloody action.

For a film that's often going for laughs, Deadman Inferno has some spiffy action sequences, making fast zombies work better than a lot of movies do. The basic blood and guts is enjoyably messy, especially since, with the yakuza not even on the boat until things have started getting crazy, even the cops aren't that great with guns. Shinagawa also builds sequences that play to his cast's strengths, whether it's the karate-kicking schoolgirls or Sho Aikawa weaving a motorcycle through a pretty crowded street (apparently, the actor is an avid Harley guy).

It's not perfect - there are some dumb and unnecessary detours, and having a few kick-ass ladies in the cast unfortunately seems to be balancing out some rather unnecessarily sexist bits. When it's on, though, "Deadman Inferno" is one of the more energetic zombie movies you'll see, and it's on more often than not.

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originally posted: 08/26/15 14:00:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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