Just your average zombie horror comedy drama…
Opening with a gang vs. gang bullet-ballet slo-mo shoot-out familiar to anyone that’s ever watched an Asian action film from the 1980s, Deadman Inferno immediately sets its tone as a product that’s not going to break any new ground but is entertaining enough.
Ten years after the aforementioned battle, former yakuza boss of the losing side Hiroya (Sho Aikawa, Dead or Alive, Gozu) is a shadow of his former self. Once a peacocking leader in glitzy white suits, he has found himself spending the last decade as a drab truck driving working stiff, busy raising Hinata (Maika Yammamoto, Assassination Classroom), the daughter of his former henchman Takashi (Shingo Tsurumi, Freeze Me, L: Change the World). That’s something Takashi hasn’t been able to do for himself because he’s been locked up in the big house following his balls to the wall part in the shootout.
On his release Takashi reunites with Hiroya, but not his daughter. He finds out that she has just that day run away with her friend Seira (Erina Mizuno, Lesson of Evil) to Z-Island in the hopes of both avoiding her dad and engaging in some casual girls-day-out fisticuffs. So of course Takashi decides that he, his ex-wife (Sawa Suzuki, Ghost), Hiroya and Hiroya’s henchman (Red Rice) should head to the island ASAP in order to see his little girl.
Also currently deciding to head to the island, although in this case it’s to track down one of their own members who may be betraying them rather than any beloved family member, is the Osaka yakuza group. You may remember them from their appearance in the opening scene as the opposing yakuza group shooting at our ‘heroes’.
The member who might be betraying them is actually betraying them. Already situated on Z-Island, drug-dealing gangster Yoshida (Daisuke Miyagawa, Big Man Japan) has decided it would be a most excellent plan to cut his yakuza bosses out of the loop by creating his own high and selling it directly to the inhabitants of the island. Unfortunately when the new drug comes up against an outbreak of flu also making its way through the inhabitants of the isle, it has the ill-fated side effect of turning residents into rampaging zombie infection machines faster than you can say living dead. And thus chaos ensues.
In answer to the all-important question for any zombie movie fan, these reanimated corpses are runners and whilst there’s no classic shuffling hoards you don’t feel like you’re missing out on too much when there’s energised marauding hoards . The actors playing them all jerk and spasm and dribble with aplomb, even at speed, and are supported by the good work done by the film’s make-up team.
But this wasn’t made as just a horror film, it’s designed to have a mish-mash of comedy, drama and horror driving the plot forward. The film veers constantly between the three tones and whilst all these elements work fine and are entertaining enough to hold attention, there’s nothing new or shocking or hilarious enough here that could elevate the film out of the ‘okay’ category and into the ‘oh my god did you see that’ realm. That said, there’s also nothing bad enough here that would do that either!
For the horror part, just like the zombie make-up, the generously shared and liberally used blood and gore elements have been brought to life via some great practical effects. If that’s what you’re after in a move, well then this flick certainly doesn’t scrimp.
The comedy element has mixed success where for every genuinely funny scene – like the highlight where our leads try to talk to the mainland police about what is going on on the island but without saying the word zombie for fear of being dismissed as crazy – there’s some cringe-worthy and pedestrian slapstick shtick that tends to revolve around punching things a lot of times. If we’re going to be picky and compare living dead on living dead physical clowning sequences, then The Evil Dead did it better and with a boatload more panache over 20 years ago.
The drama element is mainly left to Takashi and his family woes, with veteran actor Aikawa adding gravitas support, but with so little contextualisation or room for character study it doesn’t build enough of a connection between image and audience for there to be any real concern over who lives and who dies (good job it’s fun anyway!).
This probably isn’t helped by the number of characters demanding space in the narrative. With the numerous islanders and the large group of central players, this is quite the ensemble piece. And even with the lengthy running time, there just can’t be room for everything.
Through most of the film the energy level is kept high (it’s good to know that there’ll always be some zombie one on one or group violence just around the corner), but there are a few occasions where the film lags: car chases that go on a bit too long, scenes that overdose on slow-motion action shots or just outstay their welcome through back and forth chatter that won’t end. Probably something that could have been avoided with some tighter editing or thirty minutes off the running time.
On the whole, director Hiroshi Shinagawa (One Third) has created a diverting, fun zombie flick, but just one that probably won’t ever make anybody’s top ten best of zombie movies to see before you die type thing.