What They Say:
Bullied by his boss, and worked around the clock, he’s nothing more than a corporate drone. All it takes is a zombie outbreak for him to finally feel alive.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name which is also getting an anime adaptation currently that Netflix and others are also streaming, Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead also has this live-action film. It’s not been too often that we get both at the same time and with the film available outside of Japan at the same time. I kind of stumbled onto viewing it this past weekend while helping my elderly mother find something to watch and so help me she suggested watching it. While foreign films are her jam, Japanese films aren’t something she’s been able to connect with and I struggle with a lot of them myself just in the style and some of the tropes that populate it. Thankfully, Zom 100 is an action/comedy piece and the absurdity of it, especially as it progresses, works in its favor as it goes more and more over the top. Those core problems that I struggle with are still there throughout, however.
The premise is simple in that we’re introduced to Akira Tendo as he discovers that after a year of working at an absolutely terrible job that he doesn’t have to go to work anymore due to a viral zombie outbreak. The outbreak never has anything revealed within the film as to why or how it began and what we get with the zombies is pretty straightforward in that they’re attracted to sounds more than just someone living and they can move fast when needed. They’re not just quiet lumbering hulks, though they have that look from time to time as well. With Akira as our focus, it snaps back from the outbreak so we get to see just what a horrible year he’s had working at his dream company where they push the whole constantly being there thing and, surprise surprise, essentially painting him and others as work zombies. There’s no subtext to any of this and that’s fine, since we later find him being drawn back into it in the third act.
At its core, the story is about Akira trying to find out who he wants to be and as he discovers how bad the world is, he decides to come up with a hundred things he wants to do before he gets bit by a zombie. It’s a slowly built bucket list – the film only reveals the first twenty or so – because he adds to it along the way as he experiences new things. There’s a lot of amusement in seeing his joy over not having to work and the way he can navigate the city pretty well at first – and that he uses a bicycle to get around, which is a nice thing to see. He’s not an expert at surviving and runs into stupid troubles of his own making but he’s also trying to help others. The first week is him, for the most part, just enjoying the things in life he hasn’t had time for or been able to afford to do before. And some of that comes after seeing the woman he had a crush on work reveal herself in ways he didn’t expect and had to kill not just her but the terrible boss they both worked for.
What helps to flesh out Akira’s journey as it progresses is that he wants to do right by others. And part of that is fixing his tense friendship with Kencho. The two went to college together and played on the same American Football team and I love that their football experience factors into things such as how to evade and push back against zombies but also some other deep-seated issues we see along the way. Kencho’s also amusing in that even at the end of the world he’s the one to hook up with a pair of flight attendants – though that comes after he had to be rescued from a love hotel where the woman he was with was tied up in a bondage scene, the only reason he survived. Kencho’s the fun and scoundrel type of character and it plays well here, especially once he goes blonde and just leans into enjoying what this new world has to offer.
We also get the introduction of Shizuka fairly early on and she’s going to be the romantic interest for Akira, though he can’t quite bring himself to say it for the longest time. Shizuka’s the type that goes hard and serious in this kind of situation and when Akira first sees her even says she’s a Milla Jovovovich type with the whole Resident Evil reference. She’s not that good and some of it is a little performative, but we get to see how she slowly thaws to Akira’s ways over time as she’s continually exposed to the way he’s trying to do right by others. Some of it is comical in a way, as he talks about wanting to be a superhero, but she’s also exposed to the way he’s joyfully exploring the world even amid all of this. There’s a fun montage sequence and just seeing them paragliding in the countryside while you see the major city nearby on fire with smoke all over is just the right kind of contrast to things.
I suspect that the film plays a lot like a version of the manga and anime because so much of the structure is just that familiar to anyone who has engaged with those kinds of works. There are no surprises here in that sense nor that the third act brings back a different boss from Akira’s life prior to the outbreak that has commandeered an aquarium facility and set up what is essentially a work camp for him and his cronies to run and enjoy. It’s standard silly and over-the-top stuff but it goes really over the top when it comes to the shark. The aquarium is an interesting setting to place all of this in and it provides for some great sets and visual moments but the shark is just an experience that you have to watch unfold on its own. The absurdity of it all wasn’t unfamiliar to me but watching it with my mother who, at 83, was laughing so hard with it, was an absolute delight.
There are no surprises in Zom 100 if you’ve seen any kind of zombie work of this nature over the years. That said, it’s an effective and fun film that leans a little too close to stupid fun at times for my tastes. It has good moments and some fun characters but there’s always that sense of naivety about some of them that lets you know they’d never actually survive more than a few days if it had actually happened. The cast is generally likable and the bad guys are as bad as they’re supposed to be. I definitely appreciated the zombie design and the choreography for how they move and interact and there are some fun aspects to how everyone gets around. Hell, just finding a Winnebago sitting idle in the middle of Kabukicho is one for the ages. It’s the small things that made me enjoy it more and help gloss over the more exhausting parts of it. It’s perhaps a little overlong, coming in at just over two hours, but if you’ve got popcorn and the right group of people to watch it with, you’ll have a lot of fun.
Streamed By: Netflix