As a fan of the manga I Am a Hero I had been cautious in getting my hopes up for this one since the horror genre has been in the doldrums in Japan with a mixture of dumb low-budget, badly-made schlock and funny but low-budget badly-made schlock dominating the output (as I have been discovering over a long summer/autumn/winter of splatter films). When there is something other than monsters and zombies its pretty idol girls getting chased around by ghosts or psychos.
Zombie films in particular are pretty bad. The list of good Japanese zombie is a pretty short one as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this is based on a best-selling manga and the approach to the film is to turn it into A-grade survival panic horror” movie as Anime News Network reports.
I Am a Hero
アイアムアヒーロー「Ai amu a hi-ro-」
Release Date: April 23rd, 2016
Running Time: 126 mins.
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Writer: Akiko Nogi (Screenplay), Kengo Hanazawa (Original Manga)
Starring: Yo Oizumi, Masami Nagasawa, Kasumi Arimura, Miho Suzuki, Yu Tokui, Yoshinari Okada, Nana Katase,
I Am a Hero was first published in 2009 and in the years since it was launched it has over 4 million copies in print with a spinoff set in Osaka. My review of the manga shows how much I like it and I have been half-anticipating half-dreading seeing what the film will turn into. The trailer has left me relieved. I like what I see.
Synopsis: Hideo Suzuki (Yo Oizumi) is a manga artist assistant who is struggling to get his own manga made. As he struggles with life a mysterious virus spreads throughout Japan and the rest of the world. People with the virus are known as ZQN and they turn into zombies with super speed and strength and attack other people. One of the victims of the virus is Hideo’s girlfriend Tetsuko (Nana Katase) who comes down with the virus and attacks him. Hideo flees Tokyo and heads out into the country.
During his escape he meets a high school girl named Hiromi Hayakari (Kasumi Arimura) but she has been bitten by a ZQN, a baby without teeth, so her infection isn’t as bad. During their escape they head to a mall where a group of survivors lead by NEETs are hiding on the roof. There they meet Nurse Yabu (Masami Nagasawa) who hopes she can draw an antibody from Hiromi.
The build-up of the manga is more or less there in the trailer with Hideo’s depressed attitude to life and thwarted artistic ambitions on display but are we going to get those weird psychological visions he suffers? It seems from the trailer that they may be excised to make this a condensed version of the story and we get shoved straight into the zombie chase sequence (which is what completely sold me on the manga).
There are different elements from that scary sequence here like the taxi ride but Hiromi’s introduction on a school field trip and the mountain shrine sequence look like they have been cut. Those parts key contain great sequence where Hideo is in a forest and is surrounded by ZQNs and scary visions, people panicking, the zom-baby, and Hiromi getting some great characterisation.
Other than that, the ZQNs are what you would expect, fast moving “infected” as seen in 28 Days Later (2002) and they are throwing themselves around and charging hither and thither on the screen. The film looks like it has a good budget: fantastic cinematography and scenes of chaos as streets are overrun with many extras playing the ZQNs with enthusiasm as they dominate streets while people are running on mass. Cities on fire can be glimpsed and the costumes and sets/special effects are great (I want to see the taxi chase!) and, on top of the action, I like the comedic atmosphere to the trailer.
The director is Shinsuke Sato and his work on Princess Blade (2001) and the two live-action Gantz (2011) movies is all stellar action which is exciting to watch and while I was ambivalent about Library War that was mostly down to the script and the premise. The key thing is that he has experience making action titles from adaptations of manga which explains why this looks like a lot of fun. While I don’t expect scary zombie movies from Japan (I haven’t seen one yet), they can be funny and so I hope that I Am a Hero turns out to be good.
In terms of the actors, well I cannot think of any who capture the looks of the characters as well as this crop do. If you live in the West and have been following Japanese films since the 2000s you will recognise faces or, at the very least voices. Yo Oizumi I have heard in numerous Studio Ghibli films such as Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and he has acted in things like Gegege no Kitaro (2007) and Bolt from the Blue (2014) – I need to finish my review for that film… – and I think he’s good at playing the everyman.
Yo Oizumi as Hideo Suzuki
Masami Nagasawa as Nurse Yabu
Kasumi Arimura as Hiromi Hayakari
The film had its premiere at the 48th Sitges Film Festival in October and it won two awards, the Grand Audience Award and Award for Best Special Effects. The film goes on general release in Japan on April 23rd 2016.