Sundance 2019: We Are Little Zombies

Sena Nakajima, Keita Ninomiya, Mondo Okumura and Satoshi Mizuno appear in WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES by Makoto Nagahisa, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The musical Nintendo-inspired We Are Little Zombies is one of the more eclectic offerings during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

It’s only after their parents get cremated in which Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi, and Takemura meet each other.  As viewers, we are first introduced to emotion-less Hikari.  He descibes Japanese funeral customs as being five times more boring than history classes.  Ouch!

These four young teenagers decide to start a band as a means to an end.  Not only are they orphans following deaths of their parents but none of them are able to cry.  If it were me, I’d be breaking down in an instant!  Given that they are unable to come to tears, they turn to music as a way to search for these emotions.  Will they find any?  It’s quite possible that they don’t have any emotions.  Upon asking someone to take their photo, the lack of a smile in their face leads to the comment that they’re “zombies.”  This comment leads the four teens to call themselves Little Zombies as a result.

The costume designs in this film is one to be applauded.  Even as these four go dumpster diving for clothing, they still need to look somewhat presentable!  Even though I don’t understand the language, the soundtrack contains NINETY songs.  If this film picks up US distribution and four other original musicals get released in 2019 the Academy can activate Best Original Musical.  I’ve read the rules–it’s in there.

Writer-director Makoto Nagahisa took home the Grand Jury Prize for his short film, And So We Put Goldfish in
the Pool, in 2017.  He was the first Japanese director to do so.  Now he’s back at Sundance with his first feature film.  It’s no surprise that he’s chosen to direct a feature film that is heavy on music.  After all, he has a background in directing music videos.   The storytelling choices here are bold.  One can tell in viewing the film where he gets inspiration from.  There have been films inspired by video games over the years but there’s something that is especially different about the Nintendo-inspired We Are Little Zombies.

In doing so, he isn’t afraid to get edgy with some of the material here.  When Hikari enters the morgue to identify the bodies of his parents, he daydreams that he’s being pranked.  What an awful prank that would be but it sure is a hell of a way to deflect the situation at hand!  To each their own, I suppose.

I don’t know if I have seen another film that is like We Are Little Zombies and it’s quite possible that this may be one of the most unique films of cinema in 2019.

CAST:  Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, Sena Nakajima

We Are Little Zombies holds its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.