Japan Cuts Review: Zombie Ass


[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF coverage, head over here. For Japan Cuts, here.]

The gorehound in me never really died, though it’s not what it used to be. Picture an aged bloodhound that just wants to curl up on the porch looking at the middle distance. But when I see a disgusting, gory, or depraved bit of work, that gorehound comes a-wagging and a-barking, and I burst out laughing like I’m 13 or 14 years old again. Just like the good old days.

Not going to lie: I laughed a lot watching Zombie Ass.

Also: holy s**t, I can’t believe I watched Zombie Ass.

Zombie Ass (Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead | Zonbiasu | ゾンビアス)
Director: Noboru Iguchi
Rating: NR
Country: Japan

For a movie called Zombie Ass, there’s not as much poop as you’d think. There’s still plenty, but most of it is day-old rather than straight-from-the-oven, if you catch my meaning. As tasteless as the movie is, we’re (thankfully, mercifully) never subjected to a scene of someone popping a squat on camera. Noboru Iguchi has some standards. Instead, we get something much worse coming out of people’s asses and a lot of puke. There’s also a zombie hurling shit from his pockets, like a dignified chimpanzee.

Our set-up for mayhem involves five hapless characters going out to the country. There’s fighting school girl Megumi, her good friend Aya, Aya’s fratty and drugged-out boyfriend Take, Maki the slut, and the nerdy rube Naoi. They’re out fishing, but not for fun or for food per se. Maki wants to be a model and is looking for parasites in fish that she can use to lose weight. (The idea was funny in the Hong Kong rom-com Love on a Diet, and it’s still funny in a Japanese shit/zombie movie.) Intestinal discomfort, parasitic mayhem, shit, and zombies ensue. There’s also a mad scientist involved in all this, and some powerful farts. And tentacles.

…what the fuck did I just watch?

On that note, Zombie Ass would make a fitting double-feature with the flatulent-fish horror anime Gyo. Both are filled with strange images, through Gyo‘s tend to be more haunting and even bizarrely beautiful. I suppose Zombie Ass has moments like that, if you find mutant tapeworms and excrement beautiful. If Gyo is like a palate cleanse that wipes your memory of the movie you may have seen before it, Zombie Ass is like a palate obliterator.

This is my first dive into Iguchi’s work, so I can’t really say where it fits with his aesthetic. It’s goofy, it’s got its tongue firmly in its cheek, and the film acknowledges the fact it’s never meant to be more than no-frills, low-rent garbage with a bit of nudity for kicks. The curvy Asana Mamoru plays Maki, and Iguchi delights in filling the screen with her cleavage and her butt. But he then renders both completely unsexy with an outhouse scene, as if to say, “Oh, hey, here’s that nudity you wanted, just don’t mind the crap.” The nudity involving our hero Megumi (Arisa Nakamura) was unnerving. Character-wise she’s a little like Kung-fu from Nobuhiko Ohbayashi’s Hausu (House), but she looks just barely pubertal. “Oh, hey, here’s that nudity you wanted; I bet you don’t want it anymore.”

The Zombie Ass special effects are pretty good when it comes to the creatures and make-up. It wouldn’t be out of place in an old Peter Jackson movie or a no-budget splatter film. The CG stuff is all trash, however, and gloriously/unrepentantly so. The zombie headshots are predominantly CG, and they don’t even look as good as the ones in Wild Zero. The finale is so artificial looking, but that’s the point. What you can’t do with technology, at least make up for it with ridiculous enthusiasm, and you can tell Iguchi’s having fun at every turn. Just picture a 12-year-old telling a gross-out joke, and that’s Zombie Ass.

With all its mayhem, it reminds me a lot of the fun junk from classic Troma, or even the gross-out classic Street Trash. It’s a pile, but it’s an over-the-top, goofy, entertaining pile and it had no problems just being what it is — happy as a pig in shit.

Underlying the action, the violence, the tentacles, and the sheer celebration of bad taste is maybe the hint of something true and human: a fear of impropriety by farting. Sometimes people are so polite about it and even try to hide the sounds of Gabriel’s trumpet while in a stall — they time flushes, they pretend to talk on the phone, they sing songs. Take that, extrapolate it, and then turn it into a zombie movie with lots of crap. Zombie Ass achieved. Farting is Megumi’s big hang-up in life — her kryptonite is something from within — which is what makes the finale so absurdly triumphant.

I mentioned in my review for Boxer’s Omen (a 1980s black magic movie from Shaw Brothers Studios) that it’s hard to give scores to certain movies. They can be written about and you can gush about the weird bits all you want, but often times these movies exist in a place beyond math. Zombie Ass is such a movie. That may be why I laughed so much while watching it. Not only was I just revolted and dumbstruck by what I was seeing, but all the while I wondered “How am I going to write about this?”

I don’t know what to give this thing point-wise. I can recommend it to people who might get a kick out of disgusting gross-out trash, but man, there are only so many words to describe it and no numbers that would add up properly. Perhaps Zombie Ass is a movie that exists in a place beyond math and language — that may or may not be an endorsement. I still don’t know.

For now, that gorehound is off to the porch again to rest. It’ll sit in the sun and flop its tail back and forth a while. It’s probably going to let one rip in honor of Zombie Ass.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.