Continuing from my previous post, after hearing Mr. Nishimura’s tales of grueling 300-cut days on the set of his latest splatterific masterpiece, it was time to partake of the gore-soaked, adrenaline-charged thrill ride that is Helldriver. So grab your favorite rubber ducky, we’re about to jump into a serious bloodbath!
While I was able to discuss Helldriver to a fair extent in my previous report on the Tokyo premiere back in March, a second viewing allowed me to evaluate the film on a more personal and thematic level, and see the depth that lies beneath the surface of this hyperactive tale of carnage and mayhem. The first and most obvious theme is perhaps the politics, whereby Japan’s government is stymied by a political stalemate over whether the infected humans should be captured and treated medically, or simply exterminated. Minister of Justice Osawa (Guadalcanal Taka) favors the latter path of annihilation, while Prime Minister Hatoda (Minoru Torihada) seeks rehabilitation of the zombified citizens, much to his regret about midway through the film when he is cannibalized by the very beings he was attempting to protect. Both characters have been assigned monikers that are not-so-subtle parodies of existing politicians, and the government satire almost hits too close to home, especially considering the eerie resemblance of the film’s plot to Japan’s current situation, with clouds of radiation and polluted foodstuffs replacing Helldriver’s plume of poisonous ash and infected population in Japan’s northern regions.
More interesting to me than the critique on politics (which is, let’s face it, almost too easy considering Japan’s recent political landscape), was the way that the film approaches the topic of family. Woven throughout the story are various plot threads involving familial ties. Taku (Yurei Yanagi) takes care of orphans in the memory of his departed father, while one of those orphans, Nanashi (Mizuki Kusumi) searches for his lost sister. Newly included scenes of the always wonderful pair of Asami and Takumi Saito in their roles as “hyper-police” also show a tragic story of siblings facing impossible odds, and a Catholic priest (Kanji Tsuda) offers sanctuary and shelter to the “afflicted” relatives of families who aren’t quite prepared to be separated from their dearly departed. And, of course, the overarching plot revolves around Kika (Yumiko Hara), her sadistic mother Rikka (played by the lovely Eihi Shiina), and her equally insane uncle Yasushi (Kentaro Kishi). Rikka incessantly reminds her daughter (while killing and eating the flesh of her own husband) that she only exists because of her, and thus is her possession. The megalomaniacal mother-turned-zombie-queen even goes so far as to tear her daughter’s own beating heart out of her chest to replace her own, insisting that it was her belonging to begin with.
Superseding the various other plot threads, the climax of the film sees an enraged Kika crying out to have her life, her father, and her heart returned, her repetition eventually devolving into a furious chant of “Mine, mine, mine!” The “like mother, like daughter” irony of the film’s closing casts a shadow over the otherwise fairly upbeat conclusion, and the depth of the relationships explored throughout the film certainly made a repeat viewing more than worthwhile.
So what was different about this new “extended” version? Well, aside from the aforementioned Asami/Takumi Saito mini-arc and priest storyline, the film also contained an extended scene featuring the capture and subsequent devouring of Nanashi’s school uniform-clad younger sister (played by adult video actress Rui Saotome). Tied down in a chair, the girl is surrounded by devilishly leering zombies and, in a somewhat disturbing scene, has her shirt torn open and both nipples bitten off a la Castle Freak. While the unrealistic torrents of blood that gush from her ample breasts are not likely to offend the sensibilities of the film’s target demographic, and the actress herself was 22 at the time, the people at Sushi Typhoon probably thought it wise to omit this particular portion of the schoolgirl cannibal show in the film’s international version.
Some of you might remember the rant in my first review, where I expressed a few gripes about the pacing of the film and the way in which some of the action sequences seemed to drag on a bit too long. Well, Mr. Nishimura provided an astute and eye-opening statement during the introduction to the film, where he essentially said that he “wanted to create a film that will tire foreign audiences out.” In other words, he wished to test the limits of viewers in their craving for outrageous action and over-the-top gore, and I truly believe that the director has indeed pushed the boundaries in this particular area. Recalling his phrase, I was able to enjoy the lengthy scenes more than the last time, although I still have my issues with the race across the Hokkaido landscape. You can read my previous report for details, but while I still find the discombobulated settings and background images a bit distracting from the action itself, I managed to immerse myself in the scene and enjoy the zany, bloody hijinks for what they were. Overall, I enjoyed Helldriver even more the second time around, having a bloody good time and becoming even more excited to see what Mr. Nishimura and his crew will be churning out next!
So there you have it, my impressions of Helldriver in its original gut-wrenching glory. Watch out for a DVD release (and see me in the extras!), hopefully before the end of this year. And if you’re in or around Tokyo, then what are you waiting for? Get caught up in the Sushi Typhoon!
Stay tuned for part three, when I will be giving a more personal account of the Helldriver premiere after-party with the cast and crew!