Video games, rock music, and a surrogate family are elements of storytelling and visual aesthetics that – if executed well – will almost always make me love a movie. Writer and Director Makoto Nagahisa knocked it out of the park with his feature film debut, We Are Little Zombies (2019). Releasing digitally on July 10th, this is a film that deals with some dark topics in very hopeful and often comedic ways.
Hikari (Keita Ninomiya), Takemura (Mondo Okumura), Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno), and Ikuko (Sena Nakajima) discover they have something in common: they’re all recently orphaned. The four bond over their individual stories and newfound circumstance. It becomes clear that there is only one logical thing for them to do…form a rock band.
Hikari is the initial protagonist…though it becomes more of an ensemble over the course of the film, as the narrative definitely centers around Hikari and his experience of this adventure. This benefits the audience greatly, as his video game obsessions lend itself some amazing aesthetic elements. Even the narrative is broken into chapters that reflect what is commonly referred to as a JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game), and mirrors the game he is obsessed with. Nagahisa’s visual choices and narrative elements are clearly embedded in this video game style, at times feeling reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010).
The children are the centerpiece, and they are all fantastic. Hanging your entire film on one child actor is challenging enough, but four is a task. It speaks to the filmmaker’s talent – as well as that of the performances – that the film works so well. The kids are referred to as “zombie-like” a few times because of their mostly indifferent outward appearance at the result of being orphaned. However, the film explores this idea of grief, family, love, and death through the kids. It is a tough subject that is handled very well in the film. While it’s not a comedy, there is a lot of dark humor in moments that help alleviate what could otherwise be a very heavy film.
We Are Little Zombies is an exceptional film full of awesome visuals, great performances, interesting cinematography, and pretty great music. Like Scott Pilgrim, it’s possible that this film won’t work for someone not into video games or rock music. However, if those are things you’re fond of, this film will likely work for you on just a visual and audio level. The story could push or pull the audience depending on your perspective on how to discuss the themes the film works with. We are Little Zombies earns the Must See rating.