A shot from ZEIRAM, directed by Amemiya Keita for Toho Company Ltd.

Zeiram (1991, Amemiya Keita)

Zeiram is a Japanese low budget sci-fi action film. Except it also has a strong slapstick vibe and a real minimalist feel to it. While, visually, the budget might be responsible for some of that minimalism–certainly in concept–the film takes it even further. It’s fight scenes set to Philip Glass, which one needs to see to believe. Whether one goes for that sort of thing or not is a whole different question (my fiancée, for example, did not go for it).

Like many low budget sci-fi films, Zeiram knows how to spend its money. The story’s set in a “zone,” which is just a duplicate of a section of the city, just without people (i.e. paid actors), save the leads. This zone can go from day to night, all depending on when the hero shoots the ceiling with a flare. She only does it a few times, and once to turn it off, so they mustn’t have gotten much filming done during the day. Especially not in exteriors of empty streets. While the low budget nature of the narrative occasionally becomes a little too apparent, for the most part it’s natural and unforced. Occasionally, particularly toward the end, when there’s a lot of stop motion (good work and well-composited), there are these incredibly tight shots and you can just tell they can’t shoot an inch right or left because there are adjoining sets or something.

The direction, by Amemiya Keita, is either deliberately constrained to fit into that minimalist motif or he’s just boring. I’m pretty sure it’s the first, because the latter wouldn’t explain for the music, which would have been done after he composed his shots. His direction of his actors is similarly lax. The comic relief characters, played by Ida Kunihiro and Hotaru Yukijiro, are both great. Hotaru is almost always funny, but Ida gets the great line about the scantily clad hero getting cold. This hero, played by Moriyama Yûko, runs lukewarm and cold. By the end of the film, Amemiya sort of assumes the audience is going to be involved, going to be buying it, so he gives up on any real sense. There wasn’t much sense, character-wise at the beginning, but there was some consistency. It goes, but it really doesn’t matter.

Zeiram reminded me a lot of Trancers, probably because of the budget, and it seemed like something USA used to play on “Up All Night.” There’s an old dubbed version, so maybe it was broadcast there. If you get into it, it’s a neat little cheap movie, with a lot more going on under the hood than it lets on.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Amemiya Keita; written by Amemiya and Matsumoto Hajime; director of photography, Kidokoro Hiroshi; music by Ohta Hirokazu; produced by Takeuchi Shigeki and Ichida Hiroshi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Moriyama Yûko (Iria), Ida Kunihiro (Teppei), Hotaru Yukijiro (Kamiya), Handa Masakazu (Bob) and Yoshida Mizuho (Zeiram).


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