Shiryô-gari AKA Junk (1999)
Directed by: Atsushi Muroga
Starring: Kaori Shimamura, Miwa Yanagizawa, Mark C. Mohouse
(out of 4)
he had to leave the Nightmare City set due to headache
The Japanese postmodern zombie horror flick Shiryô-gari (hereafter referred to as Junk – no pun intended) is one of the better efforts in the ever-popular action horror genre. The setup is typical – Yakuza gangsters meet in an abandoned warehouse for a deal that goes wrong in more ways than one. When not fighting each other, they have to fight off the living dead, who seem to be eternally hungry. What works great here is execution – the action is well orchestrated, the gore plentiful, and the thing is tightly edited for maximum fat-trimming. Basically, folks, what we’ve got is a poorly acted, super cheesy, and yet no-nonsense type of zombie movie that throws us the crumbs of something fresh at the same time it’s stealing from every horror movie in existence.
Indeed, what separates Junk from the pack of Fulci and Romero rip-offs is the little touches put in by director Atsushi Muroga and his screenwriters (Yoko Kuzuki, Emiko Terao, J.B. Baker). The opening jewel heist ends in gunshots, but unlike From Dusk Till Dawn, the perpetrators don’t shoot to kill. When encountering the zombies for the first time, our anti-heroes figure out quickly who they are dealing with (obviously, by now, everybody knows what a zombie looks like and what his favorite food is). The secret experiment involving DNX (up and coming rappers, take note), the chemical which reanimates the dead, is a product of the US Army(!), (perhaps symbolizing the Japanese annoyance with the continuous presence of the United States military in Okinawa, but I’m just theorizing). One of the zombies eats his own intestines. We even get a zombie villain (Miwa Yanagizawa), who is not only smart enough to deactivate a self-destruct computer countdown, but has somehow gained super-strength and agility. A silly plot development, to be sure, but in a movie with tongue firmly planted in cheek, you learn to roll with it. Our heroine, (played by Kaori Shimamura), is spunky and likable – find me a heroine in another movie that will reach into the intestines of a corpse to retrieve an important set of keys.
this bathroom looks occupied
The annoyances of the film – like the use of English language dialogue that is difficult to understand, horrible acting from many involved (the army captain played by Mark C. Mohouse comes to mind as unbelievably bad), and amusingly awful lines (like: “Life is a complex combination of chemicals. It’s very complicated, but in fact, very simple.”) – are minor quibbles when taking the whole creation into account. Here we have a director borrowing from a wide catalogue of zombie horror – I spotted the previously mentioned From Dusk Till Dawn, as well as Evil Dead Trap, The Evil Dead, Re-Animator, and Return of the Living Dead, not to mention a good dose of Manga and Italian influence (the zombies owe their appearance to Fulci much more than Romero). The evil zombie-creating-experiment scenario even reminds one of Bruno Mattei’s awful Hell of the Living Dead, but the formulas are so well mixed together and sprinkled with Japanese flair that one can easily overlook the plot’s lack of originality.
In many ways, as action/gore flicks go, this is a better film than Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus, since it realizes that fast-moving setpieces have to be properly set up and spaced apart to be effective; otherwise the result is more numbing than energetic. As a scary (or serious) movie, Junk doesn’t work at all, but as gore-filled popcorn fare that – dare I say it – offers sly commentary on the increasing hegemony of the west, it’s fun.
- Bill Gordon