— an astute observation made by one of the under-siege characters.
Apprentice sushi chef Keiko (Rina Takeda) has spent her life training under the exacting tutelage of her father but meets with nothing but criticism of her efforts, so she runs away from home and gets a job as a kimono-clad waitress at an inn in the country. The inn is suffering financial woes and needs high-end clients in order to survive and the staff is expected to bend over backwards to please the demanding group of tony corporate assholes from a pharmaceutical company who arrive for a business retreat. As the new kid on staff, Keiko endures hazing from her co-workers and unfair disciplinary action from her bosses but just when her job situation is about to break her, things shift gears when a homeless man with a grudge against the pharmaceutical boss shows up to launch a campaign of revenge. Five years earlier, the man had been a promising bio-chemical engineer who'd discovered a serum that could re-animate dead tissue, but the serum also caused the re-animated sample creatures to become hostile and carnivorous, so the engineer was unceremoniously kicked to the curb, his career now in ruins. But now his scheme for vengeance comes to fruition as he injects some of the inn's sushi chef's creations with his re-animation serum, thus unleashing an army of flying, giggling, carnivorous sushi that causes fountains of blood to spew from hapless victims who also find themselves zombified upon ingesting the meal. Trapped in the inn's remote location and outnumbered by a killer sushi army that rapidly reproduces (yes, we get to see sushi pieces get their hump on), the staff and the corporate assholes must fight for their lives, and Keiko's courage and survival skills, including her considerable martial arts prowess that she learned as a part of her dad's grueling training techniques, are put to the ultimate test.
Keiko (Rina Takeda) readies to throw down against an onslaught of fishy killer edibles.
I'll cut straight to the chase: DEAD SUSHI is a hoot. Playing like a looney, over-the-top live-action anime, everything about this film is grin-inducingly cartoonish from start to finish and it's genuinely funny in a way that loses nothing when viewed from outside of its native culture. It can also be easily described to skeptical Western audiences as a particularly Japanese take on territory staked out by the British SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), only with the intentional ridiculousness and gore cranked up to 11, as is expected from our cinematic friends from the Land of the Rising Sun. And, informed by over four decades of zombie movie tropes, the film lampoons the genre's cliches with wild abandon, occasionally to jaw-dropping effect. And along with a gun with which to combat the undead, we are treated to a skillfully-wielded pair of edible nunchaku.
And you thought your corporate retreat sucked.
There are many, many memorable aspects and highlights to DEAD SUSHI, but the film's capable center is my girl Rina Takeda in the role of Keiko. I've been a huge fan of Takeda's world-class karate skills since her shattering debut in HIGH KICK GIRL (2009), and her straight martial arts roles have established her as one cool and brutal customer equipped with attitude and martial precision that borders on the surgical, so it was a fun surprise to see her playing a very sweet and vulnerable girl whose acumen as an ass-kicker only comes to the fore in times of dire need. She's lovable and has a very expressive face, and in the five years since her debut Takeda has grown a lot as a thespian. She's simply a pleasure to watch here, and we root for her as a character and not just as a total badass.
Rina Takeda: the only actress I can think of who can find herself on the receiving end of a sushi-related "smells like fish" double-entendre and come out of it with her dignity fully intact. (Then again, this is the first movie where I've seen such a reference somehow delivered with no trace of vulgarity, which may stem from its cultural context, so there is that.)
Perhaps an odd choice for the 31 DAYS OF HORROR by virtue of its flat-out comedic nature, DEAD SUSHI is not scary at all but its scenario is easily understood as something that would be quite horrific if it were to occur in real life. Most of the established zombie movie tropes are trotted out to the expected gory effect (though the "blow off the head" staple is absent since sushi does not have a head) and once zombified, the rice that copiously oozes from the victims' mouths is downright revolting, so I say this definitely counts as a horror movie, albeit one from a spoof point of view. Fun on a bun, DEAD SUSHI comes highly recommended, and though it is a comedy, bear in mind that it's of Japanese origin and is thus geared toward what is perfectly acceptable within its culture of origin, meaning showers of arterial spray and gratuitous female nudity (unfortunately not Rina's), so gauge your viewing accordingly.
Poster from the theatrical release.