Dead Sushi (2012)
It's an all out sushi attack!
To be a Japanese sushi chef requires 11 years of training... it is a discipline that is taken very seriously. Young Keiko is studying under her father, a master sushi chef, but he is never satisfied with her progress and suspects that it is just not possible for a woman to make truly great sushi. In despair, she runs away from home and takes a job as a hostess in a remote mountain retreat. A group of executives from a pharmaceutical company arrive for a stay, drawn by the retreat's reputation for excellent sushi... but Keiko quickly sees that their sushi chef is really 3rd rate.
So, it's a film about Keiko's quest to prove that women can be great sushi chefs, right? Nah, this is a Noboru Iguchi film! Before long a former employee turns up at the retreat, bitter about his treatment at the company's hands when his research into a serum for resurrecting dead animal cells turned out to have the unfortunate effect of turning them into monsters... contagious monsters. He arrives armed with a vial of the serum and a squid, which once injected has the power to resurrect its brethren... even when they've been chopped into thin slices and served with rice. It's The Sushi Zombie Apocalypse! Keiko will indeed require all her knowledge of sushi preparation, but even more so her martial arts skills, if she is to prove herself and save the day.
Noboru Iguchi is without a doubt one of the most creative - and twisted - minds working in cinema today, the creator of such classics as The Machine Girl, Robogeisha and MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD. Here he teams up with regular compadre and gore maestro Yoshihiro Nishimura once again, along with the ever present and always game Asami and HIGH KICK GIRL's Rina Takeda. Iguchi's script follows the usual pattern of surreal absurdity and multi-genre parody, with soap opera style dialogue, script and acting that stays utterly, excessively sincere even as the cast are ravaged by flying killer sushi. About 3/4 of the way through the film, one of the characters does remark "Things have reached the point where they no longer make any sense"... but I think he's off by about 5/8s of a film, at least. It is all very, very silly indeed, a delightful send up of... everything, ever, really.
The gore is unfortunately toned down a bit compared to previous films from the loose ensemble of directors that has formed around special effects whiz Yoshihiro Nishimura in recent years. I think it's probably because he's been so busy they couldn't get much of his time, rather than any desire to be more mainstream - or perhaps Iguchi just felt that he'd done gross-out splatter pretty damn well already and doesn't want to become too dependent on it. There's still the odd decapitation or arterial spray, but to be honest this kind of film really does depend on excess, and whilst DEAD SUSHI is excessive in many ways, it is a bit too tame when it comes to the splatter.
As if to compensate, we do get some almost decent martial arts courtesy of the very lovely Rina Takeda, who has the genuine skills in karate to bust some moves - though she lacks a worthy opponent to use them on in this film, and the choreography and filming of the fights are nowhere up to the standards of a proper martial arts film (I have to say that Japan has never been Hong Kong's equal in that genre). Still nice to see her getting chance to kick some ass and be terribly cute doing it, anyway.
Although Iguchi has never been shy about violence, I can't remember there ever being any nudity in his films, despite the regular appearance of former AV girl Asami, who has proven herself quite willing to strip in other directors' work. DEAD SUSHI surprises by having a naked girl... but exactly one, in exactly one scene (and it's not even Asami). I can't quite understand that, as there are other scenes where naked girls would have been entirely appropriate... if you're going to have one nude scene, why not have more? It's unlikely to lose you any points with the sort of audience that goes to watch a film like DEAD SUSHI. A single scene is going to be enough to put off those who don't want any naked girls in their splatter films, but not enough to please those who feel that's exactly where they belong.
So, although DEAD SUSHI scores very highly on creativity and "intelligent stupidity" (it's a real thing!), it fails a little bit on excess and exploitation. Iguchi was largely responsible for sparking the New Japanese Splatter Wave (I made that up though, probably) which has earned a presumably small but dedicated following at overseas film festivals and the home video market. I suppose it's a bit much to ask that each successive release ups the stakes on sex and/or violence without sacrificing the delicious humour and imagination that makes Iguchi's films genuinely good, in a way that those of some of his contemporaries are not, though. DEAD SUSHI is still a good film, which perhaps sits closer to something like Calamari Wrestler than splatter fare such as Tokyo Gore Police, but then again it does have zombies (not all of whom are bite-sized) and more blood and guts than... well, almost every film ever made outside Japan, I suppose, so... damn it, I guess I just want it all!