I Am A Hero Review (2016)

I Am A Hero Review (2016)

English Title I Am A Hero
Japanese Title I Am A Hero
Kana Title アイアムアヒーロー
Director Shinsuke Sato
Release Date 2016
Distributor Toho Pictures
Sub Genre
Zombies

Based on Japan’s answer to The Walking Dead, I Am a Hero is Japan’s first big budget attempt at the zombie sub-genre. By no mean the first, with films such as Wild Zero and Versus coming from the independent scene some 15 years ago, but with the zombie craze over a decade old now it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for a blockbuster effort. Already overshadowed by the fantastic Train to Busan, and a renewed interest in The Walking Dead, what can I Am a Hero do that makes it the best zombie film of 2016?

Hideo Suzuki is a 35 year old down on his luck assistant manga artist and side character in the story of his own life. Disrespected by his co-workers and relentlessly mocked by his girlfriend, Hideo daydreams of a world in which he can become a useful human being. But just as his dreams begin to fall apart, a virus wipes out most of Japan, turning its citizens into bloodthirsty zombies, colloquially known as ZQN. With a rumoured safe zone at the top of Mount Fuji, Hideo, shotgun and gun license in hand looks to escape Tokyo with the dreams of finally becoming the hero of his namesake.

Joining an already crowded sub-genre, I Am a Hero is admittedly derivative, kicking off with an opening reminiscent of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake albeit with Shaun of the Dead’s protagonist. But in all honestly, I Am a Hero is probably the most fun I’ve had with the genre since 2004. Most of all, having the film take place in Japan brings a freshness in spite of its conventionality. Japanese gun laws alone drastically change the narrative, as in the film’s second act location, the presence of a single gun threatens to tear the entire community apart. Similarly even the zombies are shackled by work and conformity, and the NEETs of Japan threaten to rise up to take power of their lives in a way they felt the country denied.

The action is also impressively staged, with the opening zombie attack playing as exhilarating as it is comical and a car fight scene that rivals Hollywood. Most refreshing is the way in which director Shinsuke Sato balances the tone of the film, never becoming the outright comedy of Zombie Land, whilst avoiding the moroseness of The Walking Dead. There’s a sense of fun and creativity to the proceedings that has been missing for the past few years. Even during dialogue scenes Sato plays out Hideo’s fantasies before showing the mundane reality of his life; dreaming up eloquent burns to silence his mocking co-workers before slipping back to reality and responding to them with little more than a mumble.

Coming off the live action Gantz movie, you’d have good reason to be worried by the involvement of Shinsuke Sato. Not because the film is necessarily bad, but because of the neutered nature of his previous adaptations. With I Am a Hero however he pulls absolutely no punches. While gore isn’t the central focus of the film, it’s absolutely packed to the gills with the red stuff.  There’s bloodied sumo wrestlers, zombies with half of their faces hanging off, and anomalies contorted in to spider poses that would make Junji Ito proud. More importantly however, the special effects are pulled off masterfully. Combining CGI and practical work the film creates some of the most inventive zombies in recent memory, and a headshot finale for the ages.

The satire is also perhaps the sharpest of any zombie movie I can think of in recent years. Giving the zombies the gift of speech sounds like it may be a mistake at the outset, but works surprisingly well. As in Romero’s series, the dead feel compelled to repeat the actions of their past lives, only here it isn’t consumerism that defines their un-death, but work. The ZQN man tills endlessly repeating ‘irasshaimase’ (welcome), while another stands in the middle of the retail outlet, arm raised with briefcase in hand as if he’s continuing to take the train to work even in death.

What really helps the film succeed where other manga adaptation fail however is in its relatable characters. We aren’t all aspiring manga artists, but protagonist Hideo has aspirations that we can relate to. Closing in on 35 he’d love nothing more than to be the cool characters from the manga he reads, but unlike other manga adaptations, he fails at being those tropes, and he’s all the more likeable because of it. This is largely thanks to the fantastic source manga by Kengo Hanazawa, but credit also has to go to Yo Oizumi for his charismatic portrayal of the character. After witnessing some truly questionable performances in other live action adaptations of late (Attack on Titan, As the Gods Will), his contribution really can’t go understated.

If I have any complaints about I Am a Hero it’s that it could have done a better job in planting the seeds for the future installments. As the film is, it ends without much of a sense of fulfillment, which is exacerbated as it fails to signal that the film’s events are not the entirety of the story. The manga is defined by the ongoing theme of those feeling failed by society taking the chance to make something of themselves, and move up in the new society. Layering more of that in here could have helped to set up more of the world of I Am a Hero. Instead the film just finishes, with character arcs unfulfilled and safety not necessarily guaranteed, leaving a lot of work for the (hopefully) inevitable sequel.

It’s just a shame that Toho have effectively failed this film internationally. They have a potential crossover hit on their hands that avoids the pit falls of expected otaku fare and a film that truly stands tall in the genre. Yet, compared to Train to Busan the film has next to no buzz overseas, and I doubt it’s for lack of trying by foreign distributors. With fantastic special effects, creative direction and characters you can actually root for I Am A Hero isn’t just the best zombie movie of the year, but a template for manga adaptations going forward. It’s just a damn shame it isn’t being seen.

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Price: $16.73
Was: $19.99
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About author

Craig Hatch
Craig Hatch 39 posts

Horror Japan is Craig Hatch, a Brit currently living in Tokyo, Japan. Horror Japan is a project that aims to review and collate media from all aspects of Japanese horror culture.

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Editor review

Rating
4.5/5

4.5

Good
4.5
Summary

Overall, I Am A Hero isn’t just the best zombie movie of the year, but a template for manga adaptations going forward. With fantastic special effects, creative direction and characters you can actually root for Shinsuke Sato delivers more than the expected otaku fare and creates a film that truly stands tall in the genre.