CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: YÛKO MORIYAMA!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks. They’re femme fatales and final girls whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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YÛKO MORIYAMA

photo by Kouki Nishida

This installment of Cult Classic Cuties, much like our focus on Daniela Doria, is going to profile an actress who starred in three genre films for the same director during the course of her short film career. Yûko Moriyama was a Japanese TV and movie actress who had a brief acting career from 1991 to 2000. She had Japanese anime girl looks and at only five foot four could convey a toughness and strength that made her believable as an action star. She worked for Keita Amemiya in three films ranging from 1991 to 1997, including his breakaway hit, Zeiram. In all three she played women warriors and that seemed to get her typecast as such for the rest of her short career. She made an impression, however, that has earned her Cult Classic Cutie status, despite acting for less than a decade.

(You can read my full reviews for her three collaborations with Keita Amemiya by clicking the highlighted titles below!)

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As sexy, alien bounty hunter Iria in Zeiram!…

Reprising her role as Iria with a slightly new look in Zeiram 2!…

As aliens Abira, Marien and Kuzto (in that order) in Moon Over Tao!…

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photo by Kouki Nishida

Moriyama apparently retired from acting after 2000 with her final film being a Hong Kong flick set partially in Japan called Tokyo Raiders. The actress is still a cult favorite among fans for her portrayal of Iria and it’s disappointing that she left acting so soon and never reunited with Amemiya at least one more time to make the Zeiram flicks a trilogy.

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Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here for the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE COLLABORATIONS OF KEITA AMEMIYA AND YÛKO MORIYAMA

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THE COLLABORATIONS OF KEITA AMEMIYA AND YÛKO MORIYAMA

Keita Amemiya is an artist and designer who got a start writing and directing for TV before breaking into feature filmmaking in 1988 with Murai Ninja, a film that was a mash-up of ancient Japan sword epic and Star Wars-esque sci-fi flick. The film showed evidence of a director still in need of some experience at the helm, but it also had a unique look and design that displayed some interesting potential. Amemiya lived up to that potential in 1991 with the now cult classic Alien, The ThingTerminator, hybrid Zeiram and hasn’t stopped working since.

Yûko Moriyama was a Japanese TV and movie actress who had a brief acting career from 1991 to 2000. She was very pretty and only five foot four, but could convey a toughness and strength that made her believable as an action star. She worked for Keita Amemiya in three films ranging from 1991 to 1997, including his breakaway hit, Zeiram. In all three she played women warriors and that seemed to get her typecast as such for the rest of her short career. She made an impression, however, that has earned her cult status despite acting for less than a decade.

Zeiram had a beautiful bounty hunter from space coming to earth to hunt a biological weapon which could absorb the genetic material of victims and use it to it’s advantage. That beautiful bounty hunter was named Iria and played by the adorable yet tough yuko, who was twenty-three at the time and it was her first feature film. The flick became an instant fan favorite with it’s live action anime style and the incredible creatures, costumes and gadgets from the mind of Amemiya. It also made an instant cult star out of Moriyama, whose Iria had the beauty of a Japanese anime girl and the kick-ass combat skills of Natasha Romanov. The FX were quite good for a low budget flick, ranging from animation to prosthetics to old fashioned stop-motion. There was plenty of action and the film is now considered a cult classic of Japanese fantasy/sci-fi cinema.

Three years later Amemiya brought his genetic horror back and his leading lady with him, as Iria returned to Earth to battle another Zeiram creature, this time infused into a combat robot. Her A.I. partner Bob was back, too, as well as, her bungling earth sidekicks Teppei (Kunihiro Ida) and Kamiya (Yukijiro Hotaru). Zeiram 2 wisely kept it fresh by having a different look and abilities for it’s title creature and for Iria as well. The sequel once again featured the stunning and unique design work of it’s visionary director and the traditional genre mixing action. Moriyama was sexy and cool as Iria and while the film didn’t quite live up to it’s predecessor, it is still an action-packed, fun flick with the trademark look of an Amemiya film and with bounty hunter Iria being kick-ass as ever. Unfortunatley for fans, it would be another three years before director and actress would team again…

The artistic director and his leading lady worked together one last time, but sadly not a third go around for his heroine from space, Iria and her arch enemy. Moon Over Tao took place in feudal Japan with an object falling to earth that contains a hideous and almost indestructible creature that would kill anything it crosses paths with if unleashed. The ever-pretty Moriyama plays not one, but three alien women, Abira, Marien and Kuzto, who all have come to Earth to reclaim the object for their own personal reasons. The actress doesn’t disappoint, being beautiful and badass as usual. Amemiya would provide yet another entertaining genre mash-up with three times the Moriyama. The flick is a gory good time and once again has some very unique design work, but still doesn’t quite equal the fun and action of his 1991 cult classic. 

Keita Amemiya continues to write, direct and design for films, TV and video games to this day. Moriyama apparently retired from acting after 2000 with her final film being a Hong Kong flick set partially in Japan called Tokyo Raiders. The actress is still a cult favorite among fans for her portrayal of Iria and it’s disappointing that she left acting so soon and never reunited with Amemiya at least one more time to make the Zeiram flicks a trilogy. Their collaborations are available on DVD and for those looking for more, there was a Zeiram animated prequel series that brought the titular creature and a younger Iria back, though Amemiya and Moriyama were not involved.

(You can read my full reviews for their three collaborations by clicking the highlighted titles, or on the movie posters above -MZNJ)

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 -MonsterZero NJ

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: ZEIRAM and ZEIRAM 2

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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!

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ZEIRAM (1991)

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!

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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!

zeiram 2 rating

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Cutie Yuko Moriyama as the lethal bounty hunter, Iria.

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