Directed by Noboru Iguchi
Written by Noboru Iguchi and Jun Tsugita
Junk food is tasty food with little to no long term pertinent effects, other than some negative health concerns if one consumes to much. Its purpose is to stuff that hole in one’s stomach in moments of hunger and nothing more. One does not savour junk food. One shoves it down’s one’s throat in appreciation of the fact that it probably tastes good because one was so famished at the time. Sushi cannot, under any circumstances, be considered junk food. Rather, it oft referred to as a form of delicacy, pending on where and how it was prepared. That did not prevent Japanese director Noboru Iguchi to make a junk food style film based on one of the tastiest, healthiest foods on the planet. Dead Sushi, which had its world premier at Fantasia a few days ago, is a glowing example of a lovingly made film, an easy to love film in fact, which goes down smooth for its wonderful taste, even though it means nothing in the grander scheme of things.
Japan prides itself on its sushi, a world renowned element of that country’s culinary history. Young Keiko (Rina Takeda) is a sushi chef pupil under the tutelage of her strict father (Jiji Bû), who wants to mould his daughter in such a way that she loses sense of her femininity and finally make sushi like a man. Right, of course. This does not go according to plan, forcing the father to expel Keiko from the family business and home altogether. It is not long before the timid protagonist finds new employment in a highly respected inn in the countryside. The night a group of representatives of a powerful, influential pharmaceutical company is when things go haywire, for outside lingers what looks to be at first an idle homeless man. This mysterious fellow carries with him a genetically engineered little squid, and, in his rage against his former employers, sends the squid into the inn for it to infect the establishment’s coveted sushi. Pretty soon, the entire place is overtaken by flying, flesh eating sushi! From delicacy to just plain deadly! Only Keiko and Sawada (Shigeu Matsuzaki), a former chef now relegated to concierge, have the courage to stand up to the vengeful hobo and his army of, yes, sharped toothed sushi.
It goes without saying that Dead Sushi is completely off the wall ridiculous. Nay, its bathes in its own ridiculousness. With a premise the likes of ‘people chased after and killed by man eating sushi,’ one has to assume that the film which shall develop in front of their eyes is not to be taken seriously. There are two ways in which the director Noboru Iguchi could have played his cards. These two avenues are often talked about in film discussion when relating to the idea of presenting what is really quite preposterous in a movie. Either the director and his crew opt to present the adventure with a straight face or they embrace the silliness of the project and let it run wild. The argument is often made in favour of the former, although given the premise at hand, it seems next to impossible imagine how that would have succeeded. Hence, Dead Sushi goes hog wild with the gore, the comedy and the mere insanity which unfolds as the few deadly sushi become an entire legion. The movie is a live-action cartoon, with bright colours, quirky action scenes and actors frequently resorting to exaggerated facial expressions which only heighten the fantastical elements even more.
People who may be tempted to think that such a film would be comparatively easy to make are to be warned for such a simplified reaction. It is not a simple matter of having sushi kill people. Granted, that works well enough the first few times, but had the director abused of this trick again and again, the effect would have worn off by the halfway mark. Nay, Dead Sushi, believe it or, displays a bit more creativity and than just that. Perhaps ‘creativity’ is not quite à propos. ‘Imagination’ feels more apt, especially considering the wide bevy of action scenes the audience gets to savour. No high octane sequence is quite like the last, giving each some much needed freshness and allowing the film to zip along almost effortlessly. Right from the very opening credits, during which Keiko’s father trains her by basically trying to beat her up, with Rina Takeda giving completely asinine reaction shots, to the finale, which features one particularly modified sushi turn into a floating battleship, replete with fire cannons, Dead Sushi always has a surprise in store, and very often a hysterical surprise at that. Interested in seeing a self-described ‘legendary robot dance’? Dead Sushi has you covered. Desiring to see what tomfoolery two obsessed lovers can concoct with egg yoke. Oh, fear not, Dead Sushi will give you some of that as well. In a film which presents itself, unabashedly in fact, as a champion of stupidity, it shows a surprising about of diversity in its celebration of lame brain jokes.
One final note should stress on the presentation of the action. Keiko was not only trained to make delicious sushi, but knows how to kick, punch, dive and do all those wonderful stunts martial arts characters can. In fact, one of the most thrillingly funny scenes is one that occurs even before the zombie sushi make their presence known, as Keiko, unable to keep her mouth shut, utters a foul remark about the disrespectful pharmaceutical representatives, as well as their apparently amateurish knowledge of sushi. This leads to, essentially, a fight scene in the dining room, wherein Keiko proceeds to not only fight off her assailants, but embarrass them as well, often by hitting them where it most hurts. The funniest aspect is that half the time she does seem to know exactly what to do next from moment to moment. She is no Batman, and hence it makes each of her subsequent moves come across as though she is merely reacting out of some wild instinct. All in all, the true action scenes look genuinely good.
Dead Sushi is a fun movie, of that there is no doubt. Does it ever amount to anything special thematically? Not in a million years, hence why the film was compared to junk food earlier. It has no pretence about anything grander than to cause shock and laughter in the audience with some crazy scenes. It is delicious like a double cheeseburger and lacks all the grace of a well made sushi. Like a cheeseburger however, there have been, are and will be more films of this ilk, some better and some worse. It is super fun packed within 90 minutes, but little replay value. Fun, but entirely disposable.
- Edgar Chaput