No, not another zombie movie – not even of the quirky Asian One Cut of the Dead or The Odd Family – Zombie for Sale variety, though the title means this deadpan cult item is in peril of being lost in the ongoing tide of zombie apocalypse pictures. The Little Zombies here are four new-made thirteen-year-old orphans who meet at a busy urban crematorium because all their parents are having funerals that day. Unable or unwilling to express grief according to the dictates of society, they club together and form a band – improvising their catchy anthem We Are Little Zombies around such found items as soundtrack clips from the cartridge games one boy obsessively plays and the wok retrieved from the burned-out ruin of another’s home.
The backstories are trotted out in succession – parents killed by a coach accident on a strawberry-tasting trip, a kitchen fire, existentially-prompted suicide and their daughter’s stalker piano teacher – and seem almost footnotes, with the most dramatic storylines shrugged off and shunted aside as the hangdog children form their own little gang. The foursome are given thumbnail characters based more on their looks than their sub-cultural types – bespectacled video game nerd Hikari (Keita Ninomiya), chubby Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno), jittery Takemura (Mondo Okumura) and tall, sulky Ikuko (Sena Nakajima), with the lone girl wearily putting up with the crush the same-age but much-younger-seeming boys have on her. The group, who initially play to an audience of homeless folk, are picked up by music promoters as the next big thing – but the burst of popularity doesn’t affect them, and they stop performing without really breaking up because they were never really together except by random circumstance.
Writer-director Makoto Nagahisa embeds the whole thing in retro-gaming style, with beeping hand-consoles and limited pixellage animations – also not taking the easy soap operatic or even teen fantasy route, conveying the numbness of the bereft children through the rote, repetitive, pointless yet absorbing business of playing and playing the same games over and over. At two hours, this stretches its point – there’s a lot of story, but none of it matters much (the murderer might or might not be still at large), and it’s a high-risk strategy to depict aimless kids as realistically as this (parents, especially, might not warm to the film). But it’s a vivid, original picture and does find a kind of deeply-buried warmth.