It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, 2021 and 2022.

Based on the 2009-2017 manga written and illustrated by Kengo Hanazawa, I Am a Hero tells the story of an extremely average man, slaving away as an assistant background illustrator for a successful ongoing manga, who manages to become a hero when the zombie apocalypse takes place. Expect spoilers as we go along.

The film adaptation is written by Akiko Nogi and directed by Shinsuke Sato (Gantz, Death Note, Inuyashiki, Bleach, and 16 episodes of Alice in Borderland) and if I didn’t know better I’d say it had been released in just past couple of years. Instead, it was released in 2015, predating a few other films and TV shows that seem to have taken some inspiration from this work. There are hints of Demon Slayer in the relationship between the two main characters and the use of dancers/contortionists for the zombies just beat Train to Busan to the punch.

This is a film that had been in my queue for a few years and I’d heard good things about it, but I was literally stunned when the action kicked off.

The set-up is casually paced, some would say slow – not me, but some – but once the zombie apocalypse kicks off, we are graced with an action sequence that rivals the opening of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. Once Hideo Suzuki (Yô Ôizumi) escapes the horrifying clutches of his ex-girlfriend in a scene that is nightmare-inducing and disturbingly grotesque, and arrives at the manga artist’s office where he slaves away every day in anonymity, we get an extended period of non-stop zombie action as the stakes – and the staging – continues to amp up until we have city streets filled with people – living, dead, and undead – and cars speeding in all directions, finally culminating in an excessively violent car crash that had me on the edge of my seat shouting God Damn!

From this point we get into the exploration of the characters and the immediate post-apocalypse world, as Hideo and his new-found companion Hayarkari Hiromi (Kasumi Arimura) make a false-start toward Mt. Fuji (since they got a glimpse of an internet rumor that the virus died on Mt. Fuji’s peak). It’s at this point that we discover that Hiromi had been bitten by a baby who was partially infected by its mother’s breast milk. This distillation of the virus allows for enough suspension of belief to accept the idea that she is only partially infected – she has the strength and ferocity of the undead, but retains a glimmer of consciousness.

This was so reminiscent of Demon Slayer – right down to Hideo carrying her on his back for portions of their journey – that I though it had to be an homage. But the Demon Slayer manga wasn’t released until 2016 – a year after this film had been released and seven years after the debut of the manga.

Similarly, we initially thought that the way the newly infected contorted and writhed about during their attacks had to be inspired by the use of dancers and acrobats to play the undead in Train to Busan, but again, I Am a Hero has that beat by a year or so. If the movement wasn’t unnerving enough, the physical transformation into the undead is horrifying as the bodies bloat, the eyes bulge and shift, and they repeat phrases and actions from their previous lives like dementia patients.

The final half of the film plays out in a partial nod to Dawn of the Dead at the Mt. Fuji Visitor’s Mall (I’m sure that’s not what it’s called, but that’s what it is). There’s a group of survivors with a despotic leader and your usual round of posturing and betrayal, made a bit more interesting given the fact that due to Japan’s strict gun laws, until the arrival of Hideo – and his skeet-shoot shotgun which he has a special license to own – upsets the power balance.

The finale gives us a wonderfully stylish zombie battle that begins with the systematic takedown of most of our baddies and climaxes with Hideo’s awakening as an actual hero, finally shedding the shame and sadness that had been the main features of his personality for the length of the film (which is a solid two hours plus). For most of the film, we were frustrated by his continuous flakiness and series of bad decisions, but in the end we finally get a Hideo who is heroic and real.

This was a great way to start this year’s marathon. This movie needs to be on more people’s best zombie film lists. It’s a keeper.

Special shout out to the 96 shotgun shells and the high jumping zombie.

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