Fantasia 2012 Review: DEAD SUSHI

Noboru Iguchi's latest opus about revenge-seeking-man-eating sushi may not fall under the already infamous Sushi Typhoon label, but it bears many characteristics of the J-splatter studio's usual shtick: high-concept comedy that lampoons Japanese culture, manic scream acting from an ensemble cast, grotesque prosthetics and gallons and giga-bytes of blood. And while I have personally found that recipe a bit distasteful after a few of the genre's latest dishes, Iguchi's Dead Sushi serves up a particular brand of silliness that was hard to resist, especially when sitting among the sold-out enthusiastic throng that is the Fantasia audience as they chanted "SUSHI" again and again.

But I really should not have been too surprised, as Iguchi's previous effort Karate Robo-Zaborgar turned out to be an infectiously endearing romp through Japan's tokusatsu genre that showed a refreshingly good-natured and almost whimsical passion for the material. In Dead Sushi, with the casting of High-Kick Girl's cute-as-a-button-but-she'll-kick-you-in-the-butt Rina Takeda in the lead, and the restraint to not stretch the film's joke of killer-seafood any longer then 90 minutes (ok maybe one minute longer), Iguchi does manage to hit the camp sweet spot and craft a genuine crowd-pleaser, despite all of its low-budget trappings.

The story is a mere catalyst for Joe Dante-esque sushi mayhem. Rina plays the daughter of a prestigious sushi chef, whom after being unable to cope with her father's rigorous and strict instruction runs away from home to work in hotel that just so happens to have a reputation for sushi as well. Her sheepish demeanor and clumsy nervousness quickly subject her to ridicule and bullying from all of the hotel staff, except for the kindly caretaker (a real Dick Miller of a character in looks and personality) who observes a latent talent for sushi in her. Enter a convoluted plot about a former patsy to a pharmaceutical company seeking revenge against the hotel's corporate clientele by injecting their seafood with a serum that turns fish on rice into teeth-baring, Gremlin-giggling monsters, and the film is off into a reverie of episodic, sketch-like vignettes of sushi-on-man-woman-and-other-sushi action that boils down to a pretty awesome duel between Rina and an axe-wielding fish-head man reminiscent of Minoru Kawasaki's anthropomorphic antics.

Apart from axe-wielding fish-head man (who needs his own movie), the gore and prosthetics are disappointingly not up to the quality of other J-splatter efforts, and there is the fairly typical-to-genre barrage of ill-conceived CGI gags, but they felt less distracting then usual. Maybe it helped that a character exclaimed "this is becoming increasingly ridiculous" a few minutes before a school of sushi assembled together to form a crapy looking CGI sushi-battleship. There's an extra degree of self-awareness that makes it all easier to swallow. That these less then stellar FX are complimented by, if not convincing (phantom punches abound), at least creative fight choreography, also make it more palatable. And that Rina carries each and every scene she's in like champ is also a cherry on top (I'm groaning at my food metaphors too).

But honestly and perhaps hilariously, what I think I appreciated most about the film is that its actually pretty educational about sushi preparation, presentation and etiquette. You even learn about the sushi pecking order - apparently fish sushi hates egg sushi and apparently egg sushi can shoot acid at people. Again, this is a sign of Iguchi really throwing himself into the material and its infectious. For a good chunk of time the movie is really invested in teaching you about sushi. And about kissing in the "Japanese style" - I won't spoil that chestnut.

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