Zombie film a schoolgirl scream


POSTED: Friday, April 03, 2009

The sounds of screaming you'll hear in “;Yamagata Scream”; are the handful of residents in tiny Oshakabe Village in Yamagata prefecture, which, unluckily for them, was the site of the betrayal of samurai Lord Tsuzuranuki and his love Lady Mitsubue 800 years earlier.





        In Japanese with English subtitles





Where there is betrayal, there is vengeance, and before Tsuzuranuki's demise, he promises that the kin of his enemies will feel his wrath. To appease the ghost of the samurai, the village erected a shrine rumored to help people find love, as well as a temple in honor of Mitsubue.

Into this scenario arrives a bus carrying a lovelorn schoolteacher and some of her female students, who want to do research on the ochimusha. The ochimusha were defeated warriors who fled to remote areas of Japan to start life anew. But upon arrival, the students sense rustling in the brush and are shocked to see their driver cut down by a samurai sword.

They're relieved when the samurai wandering through the forests are just role-playing townspeople putting on a show for tourists. In this place where nothing much happens, the students have arrived at a momentous occasion, just in time to witness the destruction of Tsuzuranuki's shrine. The plan is to build a mega-shrine, complete with glitzy shops, restaurants and a theme park that will bring even more tourists to Oshakabe and its greedy mayor. The only one trying to save the shrine is Santaro, a barber considered to be the village idiot because of his belief in Tsuzuranuki's curse, which finally comes true with the shrine's destruction.

The spirit of Tsuzuranuki proceeds to awaken the ghosts of his comrades, who destroy the only bridge into the town, trapping and killing everyone in sight, turning them into zombies the color of blue-green greasepaint.

Luckily for the schoolgirls, this zombie film is also a comedy, and the only ones playing it straight as a horror/love story are Tsuzuranuki and the visiting Mikayo (Riko Narumi), who happens to be a ringer for Mitsubue.

When Mikayo is whisked away by Tsuzuranuki's ghost, it's up to her classmates and Santaro to save her.

So many characters enter the picture, by the end you expect to see some surprise blood ties, but the story is simply presented and easy to digest, and pretty rote as far as zombie comedies go. Some of the funniest moments are seeing the ghosts adjust to modern life, including experiencing painful brain freeze after taking a bit of a Drumstick ice cream cone.

Unlike Western convention, which has zombies dispatched by bullets to the head, these meet their ends through a particular folk song. Why, we never know. Then there's the matter of what to do with all those village zombies in the end, and you get the feeling that director Naoto Takenaka—who also co-wrote the script and gave himself the plum role of the traitor Gen. Yamazaki, who only longs for the childhood he never had—simply threw up his hands, letting them just be.

Even so, “;Yamagata Scream”; is a fun movie and a breeze to watch. The film also got some buzz during Paris Fashion Week in January, when Narumi, Takenaka and Ikki Sawamura—in Tsuzuranuki's red samurai costume—walked the catwalk for Maji Masatomo, who designed colorful costumes for the film.