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Fantasia 2015 Review: Deadman Inferno Is Horror/Comedy Perfection, Japanese Style

By  · Published on July 27th, 2015


Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

The phrase “Japanese horror comedy” most likely doesn’t inspire much confidence these days because for every Dead Sushi (a fun film!) there seems to be five Zombie Ass-like stinkers – and yes, both of those examples are from the same director, Iguchi Noboru – but a possible savior has arrived in the form of Shinagawa Hiroshi’s new feature, Deadman Inferno.

Takashi (Shingo Tsurumi) is an enforcer for yakuza boss Hiroya (Sho Aikawa), but when they’re hit by a competing clan all but three of them end up dead. Ten years later he exits prison and reunites with Hiroya who’s spent the decade working a blue collar job and raising Takashi’s now teenage daughter, Hyugo (Maika Yamamoto). Meanwhile, a small nearby island falls victim to a drug and virus-fueled illness that turns the dead into flesh-eating zombies capable of infecting their victims with a bite. When Hyugo and her friend Seira (Erina Mizuno) unwittingly run away to the island Takashi follows hoping it’s not too late to start acting like a father again.

Shinagawa’s film is a horror/comedy in the simplest terms, but it manages to infuse its genre elements with some unexpected but equally compelling threads. A subplot involving the enemy yakuza resurfaces as tough guy Tamachi (Yuichi Kimura) arrives on the island too, and his decade-old fight with Hiroya spills over into their battle with the undead. The backbone to all of it though is the focus on relationships – between father and daughter, between friends, between associates – and they’re given the attention necessary to add dramatic weight to the otherwise frantic, funny and bloody proceedings.

The energy level is high throughout thanks to a dynamic score and sharply-crafted action sequences. There’s a bit of an over-reliance on slow-motion shots, but it never looks less than visually exciting as characters fight and interact in real locales – there are no cheap green screen backgrounds here. Chase scenes, big brawls and individual acts of violence are never more than a few minutes away with highlights including a knife fight on a moving truck and multiple instances of Hyugo and Seira kicking serious butt with their martial arts talents. Miscellaneous characters refer to the schoolgirls as hot and sexy, but the script shows an unlikely respect for the pair allowing both to be smart and more than physically capable.

We care about these people – again, something highly unusual for the genre – and our concern makes the action and events more suspenseful and tangible. There isn’t a bum character in the ensemble, and even supporting players like the horny doctor (Shunsuke Kazama), the Grand Theft Auto-loving cop (Yosuke Kubozuka) and others are extremely likable and display real personality. All of this combines with unexpected narrative turns to have us actually giving a damn as the danger grows around them.

That danger results in all manner of violent demises brought to life with practical gore and blood as well as an unfortunate abundance of CG bloodletting. It’s blended with the sticky stuff, but it’s always discernible making it the film’s singular major weakness. The rest of the movie is so satisfying that the cartoon blood is ultimately forgivable, but it’s distracting all the same.

Deadman Yakuza is destined to be marketed as just another goofy zom-com, but it’s happily so much more than that. It’s exciting, affecting and incredibly funny – including the best zombie walk/run gag I’ve seen – and immensely satisfying from beginning to end.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.