Dead Girl Walking is one of six segments of a made-for-TV series called ‘Hino Theater of Horror,’ all adapted from the works of manga artist Hino Hideshi. Hino Hideshi dreams up pretty dark ideas for his manga and he ranks just below Junji Ito as one of the most important Japanese horror-gore manga artists. Yuri (Maeda Ayaka), a young student, suddenly dies from a heart attack…except she doesn’t die. Though clinically dead, she continues to think, act, and feel just like any other high school girl. She attempts to ‘live’ on, even as her body begins to rot. Her family, forced to live with an abomination and deal with her increasing stench, try a variety of ways to actually kill her. Unfortunately she is already dead, so their efforts are in vain. Despised by everyone, she runs away and becomes a homeless vagrant, her body slowly falling to pieces. Walking along the road, she gets picked up by a strange man and forced into some bizarre circus act, where she may or may not have been raped by a group of perverse business men. Ultimately her decomposition progresses so far that she can no longer move and her family douses her body in gasoline and burns her ‘alive.’ Then there is some sort of birth/death sequence and, finally truly dead, Yuri can rest in peace.
I have to say that this is an extremely unique premise for a zombie movie and has the potential to be a very interesting character study. Yuri is forced to watch as her body literally rots away. Her family begins to despise her and tries to kill her and her friends are horrified by her very existence. This has to be a situation that raises some very interesting existential questions. What does it mean to be alive? How do we define the meaning of our existence? What sort of terrifying experiences will Yuri have to endure in order to be reborn? The movie also contains the theme of social alienation (being a living dead girl could just be a metaphor for feeling isolated and different from everyone else) and the breakdown of the nuclear family. During the course of the movie, Yuri’s family is transformed from warm and loving people into resentful, murderous wraiths, their faces masked in shadows.
Unfortunately, Dead Girl Walking wastes away its enormous potential. As you can probably guess, it is an extremely low-budget production and only 45 minutes long. I don’t really think that this is an acceptable excuse, however, considering the quality of the source material and the fact that the story doesn’t need to rely on expensive special effects or cinematography to be successful. The true horror is Yuri’s experience of becoming a freak of nature, a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster. And yet, despite her situation, the most intriguing comments Yuri can muster are “Am I dead now?” and “Look, my yellow daisy is dead too.” Honestly, I had hoped that schoolgirls were capable of more thought-provoking self-analysis.
Shiraishi Koji’s directing is also extremely unimaginative. He switches back and forth between color-saturated scenes (to represent Yuri when she is alive) and black and white scenes (obviously to depict the dead Yuri). He also uses black frames with white dialogue to express Yuri’s inner thoughts (which aren’t extremely thought-provoking), Ring-esque close ups of her right eye, and the rather drab visual metaphor of a yellow daisy to parallel Yuri’s condition. After watching this movie, it’s hard to believe that Shiraishi Koji is considered one of Japan’s up-and-coming horror directors.
I want to like Dead Girl Walking for bringing something interesting and new to the zombie genre. The movie earns points with its imaginative premise. As a film, however, Dead Girl Walking is ultimately a failure. Thankfully, running only 45 minutes long, you don’t feel like the movie has robbed you of your life in addition to being bad.