Inventive visual experience

Japanese writer/director Makoto Nagahisa’s debut feature is brilliant. It’s a bonkers fever dream with a profound narrative that matches its visual inventiveness.

However, “We Are Little Zombies” isn’t for everyone. For all it’s striking, subversives 8-bit video game nostalgia combined with odd, alien posturing, the message might seem morbid and off-putting for some. Many viewers will struggle to stay with the film as it meanders, at times, in self-indulgent, but fantastic ways. There’s a point to it, and when it ends, it all makes sense… I think.

The story follows four thirteenish kids who all lose their parents at around the same time. They are orphaned by a car accident, a fire, a murder, and so forth. A chance meeting at a crematorium brings them together in their emptiness. They describe themselves as “zombies,” who now float about with no future, but they are plagued with dreams, some of which are nightmares.

As they wander from location to location, they begin to find a peculiar purpose, although their nihilistic thoughts plunge them into denial. While finding safety in an abandoned building, they get the idea to form what they describe as “a kick-ass” rock band. And that’s what they do.

Don’t expect their music to be a sunny, heavily polished K-Pop imitation. These little zombies collect their instruments from garbage heaps, meshing them with pieces of their own lives. For example, they assemble a makeshift drum set using a wok that Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno) retrieves from the charred ruins of his parents’ restaurant.

Through the magic of social media, their first song, suitably titled “We Are Little Zombies,” goes viral. The punkish tune becomes a cross-over pop sensation. But the foursome’s newfound fame brings them little happiness. Closure is far away.

Read the rest of Jonathan’s review online and in print in the Times-Herald:

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