Fantastic Fest Review: DEAD SUSHI is Fun up to a Point

It's like a mutant, diseased sequel to JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI.

Dead Sushi is a silly, light Japanese gorefest from Noboru Iguchi, the director of The Machine Girl and Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead. If you've seen one of these films, you've seen them all. But the same could be said of films about boxing or sad death row dramas. The question is whether or not this sort of thing floats your boat. If it does, Dead Sushi will give you everything you could hope for. If seeing a girl's dismembered head get pinned tongue-to-tongue to her boyfriend's face with a flying killer fish puts you off, look elsewhere.

Dead Sushi focuses on young sushi chef Keiko as she attempts to live up to her father's legacy as a sushi master. Even though this is a Japanese film, Papa's sushi training looks more like a kung-fu battle. In the end, Keiko's femininity robs her of sushi success ("You smell like a woman, which only adds to the fish smell") and she must find employment elsewhere.

Luckily, that harsh training made her a bit of a badass, both in the ring and in the kitchen. This comes in handy when a dirty vagrant appears at Keiko's new job and unleashes a bunch of killer sushi that can fly through the air and reanimate the dead.

With a plot so involved with the creation of sushi, Dead Sushi would make a great double feature with the short documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Anyone who felt that film was missing a certain modicum of cartoony ultra violence will find lots to love here. Also, Dead Sushi's many many shots of people slobbering rice out of their mouths will cure you of your massive jones for Jiro's fatty tuna. It's less fun eating salmon roe when you just watched one chew off a lady's tongue.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi also kind of prepares you for all the sushi talk in the film. For instance, a plot point revolves around egg sushi, which people often dismiss even though it reveals the true gifts of a sushi chef. If I hadn't watched Jiro, I'd think this film was just being randomly dramatic. But no, that's really a part of sushi culture. Such an education also aids lines like, "When you hurt a sushi chef's pride, his next dish is death!"

Unfortunately, Dead Sushi's frequently crosses the line between low budget sympathies and low grade silliness. It relies too heavily on awful looking CG blood sprays and goofy sound effects (when two people kiss it sounds like someone being eaten alive by a snot monster). As Keiko befriends an acid-vomit spewing egg sushi, you sense the fun Noboru Iguchi shoots for but also a sense that raw weirdness isn't good enough. He rarely does anything special with it. Before long, we're stuck with tons of sushi flying through the air without much invention. None of the wacky sushi stuff in the film can compete with the highly choreographed physical comedy of an early scene in which Keiko defeats a handful of violent men by beating them with their own clothes, leaving them defeated, nude and with achy, achy testicles. You can see the craft of such a scene. Everything else feels much more carefree and meaningless.

These crazy Japanese comedy gore fests often run a half hour too long. Dead Sushi is no exception. The film doesn't even have that much gore. It's just crazy enough to make us anticipate more craziness than it actually delivers. After a while, the film just grows tiresome and runs out of ideas. Still, when it's on, it's on. And if you know what you're getting into, you'll find enough laughs to make it worth your while.