Zombies seem to be all the rage these past few years (Train to Busan, The Walking Dead and World War Z), and I am A Hero is the next Asian zombie thriller to hit the big screen in 2016. Despite being adapted from a manga, it emphatically adds itself to the ranks of the critically acclaimed movies in this hit-and-miss genre. It was premiered at the Sitges Film Festival in October 2015 but was only released commercially in 2016. Based on the manga of the same name by Kengo Hanazawa, the director Shinsuke Sato does a service to fans of the comic by following the graphic heavy source material faithfully without compromising on the attributes which make for a great motion picture.
The plot is nothing too mind-blowing as a lot of the content in the manga did not see the light of day. But that does not mean that it is boring whatsoever (as contradicting as I may sound) because like previous entries of modern zombie stories, I am a Hero flourishes with a simple yet highly engaging plot. It tells a story of a manga artist Hideo Suzuki (Yo Ozumi) who leads a mediocre life. His career is nothing lucrative, he doesn’t dare to take risks and his girlfriend is increasingly frustrated with him. He often imagines how he would react to situations as a hero (think The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) but doesn’t have the guts to really do it. His life flips upside down when a mysterious virus strikes Japan, turning the infected into reanimated corpses. Hideo joins up with a high school girl Hiromi (Kasumi Arimura) and they work together to escape the madness in the city. On the way there, they arrive at an outlet mall where they realise the undead isn’t the only problem they have to worry about. As the only person in the movie to have a real gun, it is interesting to see how a timid, law-abiding man reacts when he is forced into a corner.
The zombies in this movie are as grotesque as a lump of dry-aged beef, and resemble the ones in Train in Busan in terms of its personality and actions; they twitch and jerk before turning and can run without the need to catch their breath. These kinds of zombies help to raise the intensity in the movie to a much higher level and it is imperative that zombie thrillers incorporate these type of zombies to keep the intensity levels up rather than the slow, shambling ones in The Walking Dead which drain momentum away. They are the kinds you would like to see on-screen because of how it makes the characters become more panic-stricken for your viewing pleasure but would be scared to death if they were up against you in real life. The movie is action-packed but it has its quiet moments as well when it transitions from blood soaked, testosterone filled moments into intimate conversations between the survivors of the colony which drive the character development.
These zombies are stuck in an infinite loop, repeatedly carrying out the actions that they have been doing before they got bitten. For example, an ex-athlete can be seen doing high jumps and another man is standing as though he is on a train to work. This is an interesting idea from director Sato as it not only answers questions of the history of these everyday folks but also ironically, ingrain a sense of life into them which reminds us that these zombies were people who were once just like us.
As an avid fan and a faithful follower of the manga, I might be biased when I say this, but I am a Hero sets itself out to be on the same calibre as the much lauded Train to Busan in the overly saturated genre of the undead. Seeing the characters I have grown to love dearly come to life on-screen really made me grin from ear-to-ear throughout the movie. If you enjoyed Train to Busan, I implore you to give this movie a chance. It may not be as popular but I can promise you that you will definitely have an enjoyable time. Who knows, it might even make you want to read the manga.
Directed by: Shinsuke Sato
Screenplay by: Akiko Nogi
Based on: I Am A Hero by Kengo Hanazawa
Starring: Yo Oizumi, Kasumi Arimura, Masami Nagasawa
Running time: 127 minutes