Film / Reviews

'School-Live!': Zombie flick lands dead on arrival

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

A manga series whose time in the public consciousness peaked years ago? Check. A cast of idol singers whose acting chops are questionable at best? Check. A script in dire need of a rewrite? Check. You guessed it: It’s time for another manga-to-live-action adaptation.

Based on a comic of the same name by Norimitsu Kaihou and Sadoru Chiba, “School-Live!” centers around the School Living Club, a group of high school girls who, as the name suggests, live at school. At first, it seems like an idyllic life: the girls (played by members of musical group Last Idol) cook for each other, take classes from their beloved teacher (Nonoka Ono) and hold school festivals.

But it turns out they’re holed up at school not by choice, but for survival: They’re the only survivors of a zombie apocalypse. Wander too far from their barricaded section of the school, and they risk a chomping from their zombified classmates, who restlessly shuffle back and forth on the school grounds.

School-Live! (Gakko Gurashi!)
Rating
Run Time 101 mins.
Language JAPANESE

As time goes on and their supplies run low, the girls must venture deeper into zombie territory — and in doing so, confront the mental scars left by the early days of the outbreak. That’s especially true for Yuki (Midori Nagatsuki), so badly traumatized she’s in a permanent state of denial, hallucinating that everything is as it once was.

In the best zombie movies, like those of George A. Romero, zombies serve as cheeky stand-ins for societal ills like racism or consumerism. A more recent zombie hit, Japan’s own “One Cut of the Dead,” used the genre to parody — and ultimately pay tribute to — the world of zero-budget filmmaking. The “School-Live!” setup is ripe for something along the same lines, and as the first 20-odd minutes of sickly sweet pre-zombie scenes unspooled, I assumed the trite dialogue and almost laughably-bad performances were, in fact, about to be revealed as a parody of typical high school drama once the zombies attacked.

Nope. Unlike manga writer Kaihou, who seems to revel in the gap between his cutesy characters and the horrifying situations they find themselves in, director and screenwriter Issei Shibata’s tongue can’t seem to find his cheek. Instead, the members of Last Idol are forced to play it straight, often to cringeworthy results. In their defense, even Oscar-winning actors might choke on dialogue like: “Don’t worry about me! Save yourself!” “No, we’re getting through this together — all of us!” Aside from delivering stale lines, the girls do a lot of falling down in fear in front of approaching zombies. One would think the only four students to survive a zombie outbreak would show a little more prowess. The thinking, I suppose, is that if a group of idol singers were portrayed as tough, capable chicks, it might alienate their core fanbase.

But how are the zombie action scenes in “School-Live!”? Dead on arrival. The film has an all-ages rating and effects to match: Zombie film fanatics and readers of the original manga will find themselves increasingly frustrated at the lack of head removal. More importantly, the choreography is simply boring.

Being aggressively boring, in fact, is the greatest sin of “School-Live!” The principle that each scene of a film should push the story forward is discarded with abandon. In a typical sequence, the girls get together to discuss doing something, do it, then discuss having done it as we see a flashback of them doing it. Maybe they could use that to their advantage for the home video tagline: “So slow even zombies can understand it!”