(director/writer: Makoto Nagahisa; cinematographer: Hiroaki Takeda; editor: Maho Inamoto; music: Makoto Nagahisa; cast: Keita Ninomiya (Hikari ), Satoshi Mizuno (Ishi), Mondo Okumura (Takemura), Sena Nakajima (Ikuko); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Taihei Yamanishi, Shinichi Takahashi, Haruki Yokoyama, Haruhiko Hasegawa; Oscilloscope Labs; 2019-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“An enjoyable coming-of-age music/drama.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The funny feature film debut of the Japanese advertising maven Makoto Nagahisa is an acquired taste. It’s an enjoyable coming-of-age music/drama, one that’s energetic, demented, surreal and pulverizing. The feel-good black comedy is a crowd-pleaser, and surprises with some telling moments of depth over loss and grieving.

It tells of four adolescent orphans meeting at the back of a crematorium while their parents are being cremated inside, who are like
zombies expressing no emotions, no love for their parents and only exhibiting a love for music. After horsing around and making a connection, they form a chiptune rock band, playing post-punk rock (which uses the sounds of video-game-style chiptunes). Their musical numbers are all upbeat and are authentic (playing music for the Gen Zers becomes a way to relay their angst).

The group’s leader and film’s narrator,
the 13-year-old, Hikari (Keita Ninomiya), is a socially awkward, bespectacled, video game addict. Before the fatal tour bus accident to his rich parents, he was “a left alone child.” His dad was an adulterer, who was about to be divorced by his unhappy wife.

Hikari’s bandmates are–the token girl femme fatale character, whose parents were murdered by her piano teacher,
Ikuko (Sena Nakajima); the obese Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno), the child of restaurant owners who died after accidentally setting their place on fire when stir-frying and the easy-going kleptomaniac, Takamura (Mondo Okumura), who lost his parents to suicide. The children are abandoned by society and left homeless. So they skip school and play their music in the garages of their former homes, and they begin learning on their own how to grow up.

heir backstories all include tales of parental abuse. Thereby the film morphs into a Super Nintendo RPG, each chapter of the story a “stage” to pass through, with gains and losses. We also follow the kids as they run away together and wander around in their suburban neighborhood. They seemed pleased finding an abandoned apartment, a convenience store, and a punk band’s damaged practice space.

At the mid-point of the film,
the abandoned kids discover a homeless encampment where there’s a “garbage band” (they use the material found in the garbage to outfit the band). The inventive kids will take for their band name the Little Zombies and go online to shoot a music video.

During the film’s second half, the band’s video goes viral and their deadpan style and n
ihilist lyrics are cheered by the public as “SO EMO!!!”. The film goes over-the-top as the band prospers with their success. The only fault is that the film goes on for too long and could have used an edit at this point and not so many fake endings. It finally comes to an emotional catharsis with the film’s last line: “my life is shit,” as the Little Zombies sink into a watery grave. This lets us believe the unique but superficial film was an honest personal journey that led to growth and change besides being an entertaining production.