Today I watched Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Helldriver (2010)
Helldriver is perhaps the craziest zombie movie ever made, of course it originates from the mind of the world’s pre-eminent purveyor of gore and arterial spray, Yoshihiro Nishimura. These zombies originate in the north of Japan when a meteor hits our heroine Kika’s abusive mother, Rikka, square in the chest. Rikka is not happy about this, and being such an abusive parent she decides to replace her now vaporized heart with Kika’s. This film then asks the question of what would happen if the civil rights movement embraced zombies, technically they are still humans and thus deserve human rights don’t they? Kika may have lost her heart but she is still kicking, having been upgraded by nefarious agents with a mechanical heart and chainsaw katana.
The idea for civil rights for zombies quickly breaks down after a political rival to the humane government takes over and begins to cleans the zombies. They do so by rallying together a group of criminals, including Kika, and offering them amnesty if they will travel into the infected north to kill the zombie queen, who is obviously Rikka. Along the way she must contend with zombie fetuses, exploding zombie heads flying through the air, a car made of zombies, even a jumbo jet made of zombies.
Helldriver is dense with gory insanity and absurd concepts. It can be easy to pigeonhole Yohihiro Nishimura as a peddler of simple, ridiculous, gore, but with films such as this and Tokyo Gore Police, I think his work holds a lot more than even he will admit. Behind all of the exploitation film bluster, this film features a number of contemporary and interesting social concepts such as the civil rights movement and the trauma of domestic abuse. If all good zombie movies are a basic metaphor for some social ill, then this one at it’s base, is about Kika’s struggle to overcome the trauma of an abusive childhood, represented by the zombies.
Yet there is more to this movie than that simple and obvious theme, this film is also a vehicle for Nishimura’s ideas of individualism. In how he paints the civil rights movement as absurd for protecting zombies, he also portrays their opposition as blatant Nazis. I think what Nishimura is getting at is a complete rejection of greater society, in this film heroism is found in individual struggles. Those who are arrogant enough to impose any idea on others, good or bad in principle, is some kind of villain in the world view of this film. This feeds back into Kika’s journey of confronting her own troubles because it states that society will not help her, friends and companions will, but not the world at large.
While Nishimura frames this worldview in a fairly selfish way, he does embraces the idea of companionship while having heroes who never ask for handouts. Kika is not alone in her journey, she is accompanied by other powerful outsiders who define themselves in ways contrary to societal norms. Nishimura thus offers up a film that can be enjoyed on a number of levels, as a straight ahead parade of creative gore and monster design supported by a world of absurdity, as a standard zombie film which uses the well known monster as a metaphor for trauma, and as a deeper piece of anarchistic social commentary. 5/5