If Takashi Miike has emerged as the “master” of anime/manga adaptations, Shinsuke Sato follows closely behind, having directed films like “Gantz“, “Death Note: Light Up the New World“, “Bleach“, “Inuyashiki” and “Kingdom”, during the latest years. One of his lesser known, but definitely among his best efforts is “I Am a Hero” a production that combines anime aesthetics with zombies and much social commentary.
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The story is based on the homonymous manga series by Kengo Hanazawa, and revolves around Hideo, an assistant manga artist, whose life is largely disappointing, particularly since his job takes up too much of his time, leaving him unable to tend to his girlfriend or even make his own manga. However, just when his frustration is about to go over the top, a virus hits the country that turns everyone infected into homicidal beasts, including his boss and his girlfriend. Eventually, he runs out of the city with his shotgun in hand, and meets Hiromi, a female high school student, who tells him that the virus is eradicated in high altitude and the two of them start on a trip towards Mt Fuji. However, Hiromi is soon revealed to have been bitten also, although the baby who attacked left her in a kind of a half-state. A bit later, the two arrive at a camp of survivors, where they meet nurse Yabu and Iura, the leader of the group, and Hideo’s true adventure begins.
Shinsuke Sato directs a film that is split into two parts, with Hideo’s arrival at the camp and the subsequent “excursion” of the group to find food providing the dichotomy. The first part entails less action, with Sato focusing on building up his character, highlighting the fact that he is a coward and a “loser”. This part is also the main source of social comments and some harsh critique, with the world of manga in particular getting the lion’s share, through an approach that also entails much humor. Human nature, particularly in dire times and the difficulties in maintaining a relationship in the modern world are also highlighted, adding some depth to the concept of the “zombie apocalypse”.
The second part is where the action takes over and where the film truly thrives, with the narrative benefitting the most by Hideo’s transformation, who, expectedly but still remarkably, finally becomes the hero his name suggests. The scenes in the mall are the most impressive in the movie, with the variety of zombies (the fat one and the fast one will definitely stay on mind) highlighting both the conception and the implementation of the story, while the technical aspects and particularly the SFX find their apogee here. One could say that the first part is quite generic, particularly since we have seen all that on “The Walking Dead”, but this second part definitely compensates with its uniqueness and the gory entertainment it provides.
Yo Oizumi as Hideo is excellent in the portrayal of the loser that is forced to turn into a hero, with particularly his pacifism towards the zombies being one of the main sources of comedy in the film. Kasumi Arimura as Hiromi and Magami Nagasawa as Nurse Yabu are also convincing, while Hisashi Yoshizawa as Iura is quite good in the role of the sociopathic villain.
Taro Kawazu’s job in the cinematography is excellent, with him presenting the many different settings with “realism” and artistry, while Tsuyoshi Imai’s editing induces the movie with two different kinds of pace, slow in the first part and quite fast in the second, that suits both perfectly.
“I Am a Hero” is one of the best anime/manga adaptations of the latest years, and a testament to Shinsuke Sato’s prowess in the category.