This week Guest Star Michelle Kisner writes about the genre-bending sci fi creature feature, Zeiram. Keep up with her and all her film writing via Instagram at @robotcookie!
Zeiram (1991) is a fantastically creative sci-fi creature feature hybrid with exquisitely goopy monster designs coupled with great practical effects. It was directed by Keita Amemiya who is well known for his whimsical and often grotesque character designs in tokosatsu shows such as Kamen Rider and Garo. Three years after Amemiya directed the first film, Zeiram was made into an OVA anime series and he helmed a sequel the same year. The US didn’t get a release of Zeiram until 1994 with an English dub by Streamline Pictures (old school anime fans will recognize every voice on the dub cause I swear they used the same five people in every production they did).
The film follows an intergalactic bounty hunter named Iria (Yūko Moriyama), a highly professional woman who possesses many skills both in and out of battle. Her partner is an AI named Bob, who simultaneously assists and chides her, not unlike an overprotective parent. Iria has set up shop in an abandoned warehouse in Japan, as she searches for the whereabouts of Zeiram, a monstrous alien who has a plethora of bio-mechanical weapons at his disposal. Iria is stealing electricity from the city to power her base and this draws the attention of the electric company and they send out two bumbling employees to check out the situation: Teppei (Kunihiro Ida) and Kamyia (Yukijirō Hotaru).
Iria decides to utilize “The Zone”, essentially a pocket dimension she can deploy over an area to keep her target trapped inside and to protect the surroundings and inhabitants from harm. Unfortunately, Teppei and Kamyia accidentally find a way into the zone and are trapped inside with Zeiram, who is not happy and thirsty for their blood. Iria is forced to work together with the hapless electricians to detain Zeiram.
Zeiram opens up with a stylish sequence with the monster taking out a group of individuals, and that is a great taste of the fun and kinetic action scenes that will follow. His design is excellent–he looks like a cross between a samurai and Predator, and on his “hat” there is a long snaky head (that looks like a Noh mask) that comes out to bite people a la Alien. Everywhere he goes he is enveloped with backlit fog and smoke and all of his weapons have a bio-punk aesthetic.
He also has the ability to create gross deformed minions to do his bidding though occasionally they are too malformed to be of any use to him and he unceremoniously crushes them under his boot. There is a distinct thread of body horror running through the film as Zeiram continuously changes forms with each one more disgusting than the last. He is almost unstoppable and it’s a blast to see him battling Iria–it almost feels like a live action anime. The lighting and editing are outstanding, and even though this film had a small budget you cannot tell from the visuals or the music. There is judicious use of Dutch angles and shadows to give the film an almost animated look.
Where the film might divide viewers is the focus on the two electricians blundering around. They are obviously the comic relief and at some points it does get a bit tiresome when the narrative switches from the more interesting exploits of Iria to see what they are mucking up. As the film progresses though, it gets easier to get attached to them and the story does put them in more peril than other movies that employ this trope. By the end of the movie they become quite resourceful. It’s also fun to see the “damsel in distress” trope get subverted with Iria being the badass action chick that gets to save the two helpless men.
Yūko Moriyama projects a lot of cool and collected confidence as Iria, and she is completely believable as a stone cold bounty hunter. I love that she is never vulnerable or over-sexualized, and has a lot of agency. She gets to wear cool armor, shoot big ass guns, and kick the shit out of monsters, can’t ask for more than that in an action movie!
Michelle Kisner writes about film. Keep up with her on Instagram at @robotcookie
Categories: Guest Star