2010, colour, 16:9, 117 mins
Directed by Nishimura Yoshihiro (西村喜廣)
By Derek Elley
Tue, 12 July 2011, 18:20 PM (HKT)
Zombie splatter extravaganza that would benefit from half an hour excised. Genre events.
Yubari, Hokkaido island, Japan, the near future, May. After seeing her father eaten by her cannibal mother Rikka (Shiina Eihi) and uncle Yasushi (Kishi Kentaro), teenager Miyata Kika (Hara Yumiko) makes a run for it. Giving chase, Rikka is hit in the chest by a meteor from outer space and is taken over by an alien force — but not before ripping out Kika's heart to replace her own. Hokkaido island and the northern part of mainland Japan are covered by an ash cloud, causing 6 million people to grown tiny antlers and become zombies. The government builds a wall to seal off the infected area, but Tokyo still becomes over-crowded with the sick. The zombies' antlers are found to contain a narcotic and are sold on the black market. A year later, Kika has been rescued by anti-zombie government minister Osawa under the Go Go Yubari Law and fitted with an artificial heart that also drives a chainsaw. She is reborn as a zombie hunter and teams up with Taku (Yanagi Yurei), who runs the Kamikaze Orphanage, and No-name (Kusumi Mizuki), an orphaned boy from the North whose older sister Maya was abducted by zombies. Osawa has the liberal prime minister torn apart by zombies and takes over the country. He sends Kika, Taku, No-name and two organ traffickers beyond the Wall to kill the Zombie Queen, who is in fact Kika's mother. After the organ traffickers are killed, the trio is joined by lone cowboy Kaito (Namioka Kazuki), who takes them to the Zombie Bar where the Zombie Queen and Maya are located.
After the stygian comedy Cold Fish 冷たい熱帯魚 (2010) by arthouse maverick SONO Sion 園子温, Nikkatsu's Sushi Typhoon series returns to its trashy splatter roots with fourth entry Helldriver ヘルドライバー (2010). Directed by special make-up effects wizard NISHIMURA Yoshihiro 西村喜廣, who also shot the final section of Mutant Girls Squad 戦闘少女 血の鉄仮面伝説 (2010) (No. 2 in the series), it's an average-to-occasionally-inspired effort that's somewhere between the high of his Tokyo Gore Police 東京残酷警察 (2008) and the low of his Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl 吸血少女対少女フランケン (2009).
Nishimura, who's a prosthetics designer at heart, and never happier when dreaming up another grotesque variation, is at his best when working from a solid script. But his and NAGISA Daichi 渚大地's screenplay for Helldriver works only fitfully, with little emotional or satirical subtext beyond the obvious: after a good set-up involving a teenager who is re-born as a zombie-killer after her cannibal mother literally steals her heart, the film becomes an okay into-the-forbidden-zone mission capped by an epic chase, prior to an interminable, second finale in which mother and daughter finally face off. The film also suffers from the perennial problem with all zombie movies: the creatures have only one way of attacking and the heroes have only one way of killing — which soon becomes repetitive unless there's an interesting story or characters.
With half an hour taken out (largely from the finale), Helldriver would be considerably better: until the final finale, it's tightly edited and with impressively splashy visual effects that disguise the otherwise modest budget. Use of music — when not simply thunderous — is also witty, with classical lollipops used for comic effect, and some of Nishimura's creations, such as a multi-limbed swordfighter, are inventive beyond being simply grotesque. HARA Yumiko 原裕美子 (from the romance Shibuya Maruyama Story 渋谷区円山町 (2006)) wields her chainsaw with aplomb but is a blank slate beyond her grim stare that's on the movie's poster. Fortunately, YANAGI Yurei 柳憂怜 (as a veteran zombie fighter) and NAMIOKA Kazuki 波岡一喜 (as a cowboy-like loner) are on hand to supply some character and wit.
For the record, the film's main title appears 48 minutes in.
ContactSales: Nikkatsu, Tokyo (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: Fantastic Fest, Austin, US (sneak preview), 28 Sep 2010. Theatrical release: Japan, 23 Jul 2011.
Presented by Nikkatsu (JP). Produced by Something Creation (JP). Executive producer: Sugihara Akifumi. Producers: Chiba Yoshinori, Yamada Hiroyuki.
Script: Nishimura Yoshihiro, Nagisa Daichi, Furusawa Takeshi, Nakoshi Sayako. Photography: Momose Shu G. Editing: Nishimura Yoshihiro, Wada Takeshi. Music: Nakagawa Go. Production design: Fukuda Nori. Sound: Nakagawa Kyuya. Action: Karasawa Isao. Character design: Nishimura Yoshihiro. Special make-up: Ishino Taiga. Visual effects: Kazuno Tsuyoshi (Studio Buckhorn). Gore effects: Nishi-zo Co.
Cast: Hara Yumiko (Miyata Kika), Shiina Eihi (Miyata Rikka, her mother), Yanagi Yurei (Taku), Namioka Kazuki (Kaito), Kishi Kentaro (Miyata Yasushi, Rikka's brother), Kusumi Mizuki (No-name), Benny Yukihide (man on wall), Asami (wall guard), Izumi Cay (zombie mother), Torihada Minoru, Taka Guadalcanal, Tsuda Kanji, Saito Takumi, Miyashita Tomomi, Mizui Maki, Ishikawa Yuya, Suruga Taro, Saotome Rui, Otsuki Hiroyuki, Sawada Ikuke, Kinoshita Aya.