Unleashing a new column today It Came From Asian Cinema. I am a huge fan of Asian fantasy and horror cinema from the old classic Godzilla films to more modern horrors like Ringu. From Japan to Hong Kong to the new wave Korean cinema, I really enjoy some of the innovative and outrageous films of the Far East and decided to give it it’s own category as it’s time to start looking back at some of the classics, as well as covering things that are more current. I hope you will join me!…
Going to start off the new column with a double feature of two guilty pleasures of mine, Keita Amemiya’s Zeiram and it’s sequel Zeiram 2!
Zeiram is a fun live action anime style Sci-Fi thriller co-written… with Hajime Matsumoto… directed and designed by Japanese filmmaker and artist Keita Amemiya. I am a big fan of Amemiya’s films especially his unique design work on the characters, creatures, weapons and settings and his sometimes off the wall story directions. This is his most famous flick and tells the story of a vicious and seemingly unstoppable biological weapon called Zeiram (Mizuho Yoshida) a humanoid creature that escapes from imprisonment, decimating a squad of soldiers in the process, and appears to be headed toward Earth. Planning to intercept and re-capture Zeiram is Iria (Yuko Moriyama), an alien bounty hunter who is equal parts lethal and adorable and her computer partner Bob (voiced by Masakazu Handa). She plans to lure the creature into an alternate dimension and then trap it, but things go awry for the beautiful bounty hunter when two bumbling electric company employees Kamiya (Yukijiro Hotaru) and Teppei (Kunihiro Ida) come to investigate her illegal power usage and get plunged into the alternate dimension with her monstrous adversary. Now Iria must somehow rescue these two…if innocents are killed, she’ll loose her bounty…and stop the alien killing machine before he claims any more victims.
Under the creative guidance of Amemiya, this anime style take on Terminator and Alien is a lot of colorful fun. It has plentiful action on what appears to be a very modest budget and the FX and action scenes are all very ingenious and creative. The Zeiram creature is very imposing, looking like a mutant samurai on steroids and then transforming and reshaping itself as our trio of heroes attempt to destroy it. The creature has a very formidable personality and Amemiya gives it some very inventive abilities like being able to eat a victim and use it’s genetic material to create other creature minions to do it’s bidding. Each time our three leads think it’s down for the count, it gets up in another form and is back on the attack. But not only do we have an enjoyably invincible juggernaut, but a charming and tough heroine in Iria. Amemiya gives us a live-action anime warrior woman with numerous weapons and gadgets and his star Moriyama gives us a tough yet charming heroine who is deceptively pretty and loaded with sex appeal, even when she’s fist deep in alien minion brains. Iria is an endearing character and she and Ida and Hotaru have a real nice chemistry together and make a solid trio to root for. And as our unlucky electric company workers, Ida and Hotaru both give us two very flawed, but noble and ultimately likable and heroic bumblers who are as equally endearing as our leading lady. They give us some fun comic relief, but rise to the occasion when they are needed most. And it all adds up to 90+ minutes of entertaining Sci-Fi action with some truly original creature and weapon designs and some wildly inventive FX sequences…including some delightfully old fashioned stop motion model animation…on a thrifty budget.
We get a very memorable and effective monster in Zeiram and an endearing trio of heroes to root for. The storyline may not be the most original, but it’s execution is and that’s what really counts here. Keita Amemiya gives us some of his best design work and a really fun B movie to surround it with. A cool, fun Sci-Fi monster thriller from a very unique filmmaker. Highly recommended if you like Asian Sci-Fi flicks or anime or both.
3 and 1/2 Zeirams!
ZEIRAM 2 (1994)
Three years after Keita Amemiya’s Zeiram put him on the map with Japanese Sci-Fi/anime fans, the designer/director brings back his sexy and dangerous bounty hunter Iria (Yuko Moriyama) to once again do battle with a new incarnation of her most lethal opponent. Hajime Matsumoto’s story finds an amusing way to bring back Iria’s most infamous foe by having her chosen by a client to test a new, advanced combat robot while she’s is on a mission. But unknown to her and Bob (now voiced by Kazuhiko Inoue) the combat robot has been installed with a Zeiram unit to increase it’s lethality and effectiveness. Bad idea. As she, Bob and new partner, Fujikiro (Hiroyuki Tanaka) are on Earth on a mission to reacquire an ancient alien transportation device, the robot is sent to assist them and then be put through a simulated combat trial. But things don’t go as planned and when Fujikiro betrays Iria to steal the device, the robot intercedes and lays bloody waste to an army of bounty hunters. Iria is horrified, but the worst is yet to come…the Zeiram unit has tasted blood and now takes control of the machine and erects an alternate dimension to begin the all too real combat training and even worse, electric company workers Teppei (Kunihiro Ida) and Kamiya (Yukijiro Hotaru) have discovered their old friend is back on Earth and their efforts to reunite with her puts Teppei inside the combat zone with Kamiya stuck on the outside trying to repair a Fujikiro damaged Bob and rescue both his friends.
Zeiram 2 is an enjoyable sequel though it falls short of the fun and inventive first film. One of the reasons is the more obvious, that this is the second go round and thus things aren’t as fresh and despite being a different incarnation of the Zeiram character, it has a lot of the same capabilities and thus there are familiar aspects to Iria’s battle with it as there are familiar aspects to the story such as battling in the alternate dimension and racing to escape before it collapses. Another hinderance is that there is a period in the middle of the film where both Zeiram and Iria are indisposed for a while and the film gets sidetracked with Teppei and Kamiya dealing with the traitorous Fujikiro. It stops the film’s momentum dead in it’s tracks till the Zeiram gets back on it’s feet and Iria is rescued and the film gets back to heading toward it’s showdown finale. In terms of the design, the Zeiram indeed looks more like a black skinned, jackal-headed robot, but since it is mostly a cyborg, it doesn’t have the inventive shape shifting abilities as in the first film. It can repair itself and create weapons out of other technology, but the multiple creature transformations from the first film are lacking and that was gooey fun. It also only creates one minion this time, a dog-like creature…the Zeiram unit eats a dog…that has very little screen time or purpose in the story. The action scenes are still entertaining and there are some inventive sequences and effects, but it just doesn’t have quite the same energy or sense of fun as the original. Moriyama is cute and endearing as ever as Iria and she and her co-stars Ida and Hotaru are a fun pairing and the three still work very well together and we wish they all would have gotten together sooner in the story.
I enjoyed Zeiram 2, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the cult favorite that is the original and seems to be more of a lateral move then an effort to expand the Zeiram universe and take the endearing characters in a fresh direction. In conclusion it’s a slightly disappointing, but still entertaining sequel and one that made me hungry for a really out-there third installment, but Amemiya never returned to these characters a third time…at least not yet. And it’s a shame because Iria is a character that had a lot of potential. There is an animated mini-series that served as a prequel with a young Iria’s first encounter with her nemesis, but it doesn’t seem like Amemiya was directly involved and it’s not really satisfying as a part of the film series. Would loved to have seen hottie Yuko Moriyama suit up as Iria one more time and make it a trilogy. At least she does however appear in Amemiya’s Moon Over Tao, a bizarre feudal Japan set Sci-Fi/horror that I will cover in the future.
3 Zeiram equipt combat robots!
Cutie Yuko Moriyama as the lethal bounty hunter, Iria.