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Film reviews: Ride Your Wave & We Are Little Zombies

Film & TV

The Japanese films in this year’s OzAsia Festival are sure to fascinate audiences: one is a romantic anime, the other a riotous take on contemporary Japan through the eyes of teen misfits. Both films address trauma, but in vastly different ways.

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Ride Your Wave deals with death and separation in a way that only anime can, combining poignancy with saccharine-sweet lashings of romance. A swirling J-pop song, almost cloyingly reprised throughout the film, matches the visual references to water and waves that mirror the world’s ebbs and flows, times of happiness and despair.

Nineteen-year-old college girl Hinako (voiced by former AKB48 singer Rina Kawaei) is a young surfer who works in a florist shop. Confident and assured in the water, on dry land she becomes hesitant and clumsy.

Hinako falls for local fireman Minato (boy-band idol Ryota Katayose), who confides that he has always dreamed of helping people, and that Hinako should, “think of me as your harbour”. In love, Hinako becomes self-assured – until tragedy strikes, and the film takes on a dream-like, magical aura.

There are nods to other anime (here’s looking at you, Studio Ghibli), and some inventive, innocent scenes with large inflatable beach toys and bath water. Of course, it is the little details that count in anime – Minato’s skills as he cooks an omelette, or Hinako’s gangly limbs as she wrestles with planter pots.

Despite its title, We Are Little Zombies is no gore-fest flick about the living dead. The name refers to a hand-held video game, and the predicament four teenage children find themselves in after becoming instant orphans. They meet during the cremation ceremonies of their respective parents and wander off together, bored with the funeral rituals and faux grief of the adults around them.

The young “zombies” soon form a band, before stumbling across a savvy manager who nurtures the Little Zombies’ emo trash-pop to the top of the charts. Twelve-year-old Keita Ninomiya (the little boy from Hirokazu Koreeda’s breathtakingly sad Like Father, Like Son) dials up the cuteness as the deadpan, nihilistic narrator and singer Hikari (think of Christina Ricci’s Wednesday Addams, sans goth).

The film is directed by relative newcomer and former ad-man Makoto Nagahisa, who brings his creative A-game in a barrage of sights and sounds that drive the frenetic pace.

We Are Little Zombies is awash in colour, filtered through a seemingly endless array of natural and artificial palettes. The use of overhead shots replicates the boy’s-eye view of Hikari’s video game, and there’s barely a shot that doesn’t feature some kind of dynamic angle. Just when you think the film has settled, it veers off in a nod to cinema verité, or Bergman, or Fellini, or Wes Anderson, or a Les Mis-style musical.

If Hikari is mourning the loss of his parents, he sure takes his time facing up to it. Buried in the world of his hand-held video game, his life takes on the narrative levels of his game. He and his buddies go rogue while the adults around them prove their uselessness. Ikuko (Sena Nakajima) is the band’s sole female member, the most mature, but reckless all the same.

Punctuating We Are Little Zombies is their self-titled pop-punk banger, which jolts the viewer into a world willing to exploit grief in the name of capitalism. Entertainment executives try to milk the children for all of their worth, but the Little Zombies show they’re not in in for the money.

While both of these OzAsia films could be seen as aimed at a youth audience, they are handled with such skill that anyone interested in Japanese pop culture will find them intriguing and, most of all, entertaining.

Both these films are screening as part of the OzAsia Festival film program at the Mercury Cinema, which runs from October 18 until November 19. We Are Little Zombies is screening at 6.45pm on October 26, and Ride Your Wave is screening at 4pm on October 26 and 5pm on October 30. See the full program here.

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