Confidently nestled in the “so bad it’s good” category, Dead Sushi is an unashamedly silly affair, which splices Japanese comedy, the zombie genre and sushi, to make an unforgettably insane, and at times, hilarious movie. For some, the OTT action and physical comedy may be too much to bare, but those more familiar with Japan and its oddities (strange humor, obsession with all things cute, strict hierarchal systems, stuffy approach to fine cuisine), will see a vein of parody running through the movie; and even those that don’t pick up on the not-so-subtle undertones, will no doubt find themselves chuckling, despite their best efforts to hate this grindhouse-slapstick mash-up.
The film opens with our female protagonist, Keiko (Rina Takeda), a young woman hoping to win over her father’s favor and become a master sushi chef. Her father is a strict man who sees a link between the rigid rules of sushi making and the harsh discipline needed to grasp martial arts. As Keiko trains, she manages to better her father in a fist-fight, but her being a woman stops her from becoming the sushi-master she longs to be.
Distraught at her dream being shattered for no other reason than she is the wrong gender, she flees home and becomes a waiting maid at an old, traditional ryokan, where the dwindling business is only surviving due to their signature sushi, said to be the best in the land. Although bullied by her fellow workmates, Keiko soon befriends the archetypal wise old man, Sawada (Shigeru Matsuzaki), a sushi chef himself who has fallen from grace and become the ground’s gardener, after accidentally stabbing his wife and developing a phobia of knives.
Along with a horde of crude businessmen, a hack of a sushi chef and a bickering married couple who run the hotel, Keiko’s first day at the ryokan goes from bad to worse, with the arrival of a mysterious hobo, Yamada (Kentaro Shimazu), who was once employed by the company currently visiting the ryokan. In his former life, Yamada was ordered to research the reanimation of dead cells, which he succeeded in doing, only to bring twisted monsters to life. As the company president shamelessly piled the blame on Yamada’s head, he became a ruined man. Plotting revenge, Yamada turns his serum on the ryokan’s signature sushi, which then bites back, turning anyone it attacks into rice-spewing zombies.
As the customers and staff are picked off one by one, the film comes up with ever more imaginative ways to make their deaths funny and gory in equal measure. By doing so, the film is able to have its cake and eat it, making fun of cheap special effects, whilst relying on them throughout. The portrayal of women is another fine example, poking fun at women being mere sex objects in modern day Japan, whilst not hesitating to show off a pair of breasts every now and then.
But for all of its cheap humor and effects, the film has a real honest gleam to it. Director Noburu Iguchi is known for his off the wall humor and bloody action, with films like Machine Girl and Robo-Geisha in his cannon, and Dead Sushi is no exception. A truly fun piece of cinema, which should be enjoyed with a pinch of salt…and a dash of wasabi.