Dead Sushi (Deddo sushi)
Japan (2012) Dir. Noboru Iguchi
The Japanese take their food very seriously, which might seem like a surprise given their reputation for making everything pink when they’re not infusing popular chocolate bars with outlandish favours like squid or green tea. Sushi is one of their signature dishes – mess with that and there will be trouble.
Keiko (Rina Takeda) is the daughter of traditional sushi chef Goro (Jiji Boo), finding his strict training regime of sushi making and martial arts too hard. When Goro tells Keiko she’ll never be a good sushi chef for being so timid, she runs away from home, ending up at a hot springs resort run by married couple Hanamaki (Takashi Nishina) and Yumi (Asami), where the staff bully her, except for janitor Sawada (Shigeru Matsuzaki).
A party from Komatsu Pharmaceutical arrive for a corporate getaway, unaware they are followed by Yamada (Kentaro Shimazu), a former Komatsu researcher who accidentally developed a serum that turned animals into killers. President Komatsu (Toru Tezuka) let Yamada take the fall to protect himself, and now Yamada wants revenge by using the serum on the sushi at the resort and turning it into his army of killers.
It should be evident, not just from the synopsis but also because the director is Noboru Iguchi, that Dead Sushi is going to be a bonkers film. Anybody who approaches it with high expectations is a fool unto themselves. Iguchi’s unique brand of low budget, wacky, schlock horror, along with the equally notorious Yoshihiro Nishimura, who did the special effects for this film, holds no pretensions of being anything else.
With both Iguchi and Nishimura carving out a reputation for themselves within this niche genre of filmmaking, the audience – willing or otherwise – know what they are in for; it is subjective as to how rewarding it is. In theory, each new film should be an improvement on the last, in terms of quality and budget (should the producers be so generous), and it is fair to say that Dead Sushi just about qualifies as an improvement.
Let’s face it, killer sushi is a hell of a concept that only someone as batty as Iguchi could pull it off, although mileage will still vary as to whether it entertains. Luckily, the script has a viable explanation for this with Yamada’s errant serum. He was creating something to resurrect dead animals which worked, but the side effects of turning them feral meant the company had to do some damage limitation and Yamada was sent to jail.
Meanwhile, President Komatsu and his staff are a grotty bunch, full of themselves when not brown nosing the boss, like token female Miss Enomoto (Yui Murata). The only one who doesn’t is Nosaka (Takamasa Suga), openly critical of everyone including Komatsu, and the only person who stands up for Keiko. Resort chef Tsuchida (Kanji Tsuda) puts on a sushi cooking display for the guests, but Keiko calls him out for his poor sushi making skills, causing a fight.
Of course, Keiko holds her own in this wilfully silly set piece of lowbrow slapstick butt kicking, until Miss Enomoto pulls a knife on her and chases her around the resort. This is when Yamada makes his appearance to confront Komatsu, but is shot by Hanamaki. Left for dead, Yamada injects a squid with the serum and tells it to spread the disease with all the fish based products in the resort and unleash the carnage.
Essentially an awakening hero journey for Keiko, Iguchi adds extra levels of spice to the story by revealing an affair between Yumi and Tsuchida – featuring a “special Japanese kiss” scene involving swapping a raw egg yolk orally which is actually grosser than the bloodletting – and sneaky company politics from Nosaka. Otherwise, this is cheap and cheerful madness as rubber sushi rip away at human flesh, turning the victims into rice drooling zombies.
Fortunately, not all sushi is evil as an egg sushi befriends Keiko and encourages her to be strong since she is the chosen one of the tale. Still want more zaniness? Keiko finds off her attackers with crabstick nunchaku! Still not enough? How about the copulating sushi that create a swarm of babies to devour the remaining humans! If the gore is too much then titillation is provided by AV actresses as the resort staff in their undies as body sushi plates, complete with the obligatory sashimi tribute to Alien!
Similarly lascivious smutty humour is abound throughout, some amusing but mostly awkward when viewed through a post #MeToo lens, but Japan never did get the memo. Fortunately, the silliness of the feral foodstuffs provides sufficient distraction from this, with enough excessive gore and gushing claret to satiate horror fans. Whilst the CGI is decidedly low rent, some of the prosthetics and practical effects are quite impressive, like the chap who has his face pulled apart.
Conflating sushi making with martial arts justifies having Rena Takeda onboard, a Karate black belt champion at this point still in the early stages of her film career. Whist Takeda gets to fight here, this comedy scenario isn’t the best representation of what she can do – then again I doubt even Bruce Lee could look good kicking CGI sushi into oblivion. At least she shows more personality and comic timing, but it wouldn’t be until her next film The Tale of Iya that Takeda shows she can act and do drama well.
Relying on his usual cadre of gravure and AV idols and jobbing male actors, Iguchi can rest easy knowing his cast will be on his wavelength and approach their roles with the usual aplomb and not take it too seriously but retain some level of composure to keep the illusion alive. Plus this comfort shows in the direction and camerawork which are far less awkward than his prior works.
Dead Sushi is unashamedly goofy, brainless, yet subversively inventive entertainment Japanese style, maybe of limited appeal, just don’t watch while eating!