Hideo (Yô Ôizumi) is a manga drawer and a generally unremarkable guy. He dreams of big things but actually has achieved very little. His girlfriend is frustrated with his lack of drive and energy and finally decides to kick him and his shotgun out. At this lowpoint of his life, the world around him is turned on its head: something is infecting people, turning them into zombieesque ragemonsters, hellbent on eating whoever they can get their hands on. Hideo finds himself partnered up with schoolgirl Hiromi (Kasumi Arimura) and nurse Oda (Masami Nagasawa) to take up the fight.
I Am a Hero was sometimes very funny and sometimes very long. While I did like their take on zombies, the film never surpassed mediocrity for me.
I Am a Hero knows its zombie movies and plays around with many nods to the genre (I’m sure I only got about half of them). Nevertheless it feels like its very own take on zombies, particularly because of the way the zombies are shown: fast, full of rage, incredibly strong, with bending bodies. That’s not the usual portrayal of zombies, not even when they’re sometimes faster and angrier. Also, Hiromi’s role is rather unusual. The manga probably explores it more than the film had time for, but that was also an interesting way of engaging with zombies and zombie lore so far.
But the characters in the film never really grew on me and that was probably the biggest issue. I could understand Hideo’s girlfriend so much when she kicked him out. It’s not that he isn’t successful, it’s that he just didn’t get his shit together and try something, anything, other than sitting around and staring at an award he won many years ago and daydreaming about being a hero with a shotgun. It takes the apocalypse for him to get into gear. And that’s just a little too much for my taste. So much in fact, that I really didn’t care anymore when he finally does more than daydream.
A part of that is certainly that the “nerdy guy gets to be awesome” trope has been overdone and I’m pretty tired of it and the faux emancipation in it. Somehow all these dudes get cooler because they get a step closer to the ideal of hegemonic masculinity and that’s their heroic journey. But I just want to see people who undermine those gender norms. That would be real emancipation.
Despite my reservations about the film, it was entertaining enough (and surprisingly serious and under the top for a Japanese genre film) and certainly had its moments. It just wasn’t great.