Nihon Bundan: Heru Doraiba

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movie poster
Also known as
Helldriver
Directed by
Yoshihiro Nishimura
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rating
4.5* /5.0*
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Welcome back to the wonderful world of Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girls vs Frankenstein Girl, Mutant Girls Squad). The most famous particle of the Sushi Typhoon collective returns to the director's chair and once again delivers a film that blows all boundaries of decency, good taste and proper film making. And yet, the result is every bit as crazy and hilarious as you'd come to expect. With Helldriver Nishimura clearly nailed another future classic.

screen capture of Helldriver

When Iguchi (The Machine Girl) and Nishimura took over the Japanese splatter scene they came up with a rather unique concept for their films. Over the years that concept hasn't changed too much, but the way they work within those self-imposed boundaries is still as creative and out there as when they first started out. Slowly their output is changing from unique, individual works to genre film making and while some of you might be disappointed by this turn of events, true fans will only show more appreciation for the seemingly endless imagination of the people involved.

Let's get one thing straight. Nishimura's films don't aim for perfection. On the contrary, if you're trying to find room for improvement there's probably an endless list of things that could've been better or could've used some extra clean-up work. Just know that this is clearly by design. In order to put in as much insane ideas and craziness as possible, other areas in the development process have to suffer. It's a fair choice that allows Nishimura to make the films he wants to make, on the other hand it does ask for a little extra investment from the audience to accept some sloppy execution from time to time.

The story of Helldriver finds Kika in a world divided by a big wall. On one side live the uninfected, on the other side lies a big wasteland crawling with zombie-like creatures, firmly under the spell of an obscure alien presence. While the Japanese government is somewhat reluctant to annihilate these zombies (trying to protect their civil rights and completely unaware of the real dangers), the zombie queen is gathering her troops to launch a massive attack to break out of their prison. And so Kika is sent on a mission to avert the looming danger, helped by a crew of novice zombie killers.

screen capture of Helldriver

Visually speaking this film is quite tricky to review. Sure it's loaded with subpar effects (both real and CG), but sloppy as it may be, at the same time its also extremely functional and essential to the continuously high fun factor of the film. When a crazy sword zombie-creature is battling a car revving on two wheels, the CG might be lacking quite a bit, but it's obviously the only way a scene like that would have ever made it to the screen. Camera work, lighting and use of color are generally strong though, making the most of the limited means they clearly had to their disposal.

The soundtrack is every bit as chaotic. A silly mixture of Japanese folk music (not unlike Miike's Izo) and other, more generic action tunes mostly added for comedic effect. The soundtrack itself is not all that great, but considering its intended use it more than suffices. Usually I care a lot for proper use of sound and music in films, but these types of projects are clearly an exception.

Roughly the same can be said about the cast. Sure there are no A-class actors here and from time to time the acting can be quite shabby, at the same time the whole cast emits an immense sense of fun and enjoyment that more than makes up for their lacking capabilities. Everyone goes willfully over the top in portraying their characters, making it an ever bigger freak show than you could ever imagine.

screen capture of Helldriver

Nishimura's Helldriver is of epic proportions. The film lasts a full 120 minutes which is quite long for nonsense like this. You would expect that Nishimura's ideas would start to dry up around halfway through, but against all odds he succeeds in keeping the film fresh and challenging from start to finish. The opening credits start 45 minutes into the film, the real fun only begins during the second hour. Surely the format is tried and tested by now, but the craziness Nishimura manages to pull out of his cinematic hat is still beyond belief.

As time goes by films like Helldriver will appeal to an increasingly smaller audience, speaking to people who appreciate the film for what it contains rather than for its novelty value. Compared to his previous films, Nishimura strikes a perfect balance between splatter and comedy in Helldriver, where his earlier films would sometimes lack one or the other. It's definitely not a horror film in the sense that it is supposed to be scary or haunting, at the same time it's not all just for laughs either and splatter fans get their share of the action.

Nishimura adepts can rejoice, Helldriver is up there with the best, sporting roughly two hours of madness, hilariously out-of-place social criticism and tons and tons of liters of blood. Surely you've seen it all before, but the creature design is still impeccable (zombie airplane) and some scenes simply must be seen to believed (the star alien commanding the zombies). It's true fan fodder and people not willing to engage in Nishimura's world will surely end up disappointed, but considering its uniqueness and stellar fun factor I can only hope Nishimura can keep this up for some time to come.