Contains mild spoilers.
Put aside for one minute all the gnarly gut munching, gratuitous eye gouging and colourful brain rainbows, by far and away the biggest shock of the afternoon was looking down at the case some thirty minutes in and realising that Junk was in fact a film released in the noughties, and not as I was assuming the early eighties. At times a low budget Yakuza film with guns and goons, at times a painfully forced The Return of the Living Dead wannabe complete with chemical spills, a military cover up and a hell of lot of painfully bad decisions, and at its best a Fulci inspired video nasty; the one thing Atsushi Muroga's Junk never is, is refined or even vaguely contemporary. Honestly, whether it's the gangster posturing, the copious leather and denim, the sets and cars, or heck, the score and video presentation, everything screams Nightmare City, The Zombie Dead (Burial Ground) and Zombie Flesh Eaters; and certainly not 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead, both of which were released only a few years later. If we're kind we'll say Junk is deliberately old school; a somewhat kitsch hark back to when acting qualities and narrative sensibleness weren't quite so important as long as guts were spewing and dead people were really, really unpleasant.
A zombie munch in the first minute is always a good thing in my book and watching the topless Kyôko (Miwa) pull herself up from her peaceful permanent slumber, take one look at the scientists inquiring innocently as to how she felt and deciding she wanted a piece, was delightful. Skin gets ripped, blood spurts out and yes, the set is sparse, the acting even sparser but it's campy, fun and unashamedly in your face zombie. Yet it was all a tease; a glimmer of what we'd have to wait a lot longer for, as despite this no nonsense zombie start, it takes another thirty minutes for things to really get going again as Muroga has another film in his head too.
As much as the film does end up descending into exactly the European eighties video nasty nonsense we expected after the start, it also tries very hard to be a semi-serious Japanese gangster film with a Yakuza boss, a jewellery heist and a motley assortment of honourless goons who'd no sooner ask for your hand as stick it in a zombie's mouth. The robbery, the getaway, the boss and his goon-squad and young getaway driver Saki (Kaori Shimamura) and her attempts to buy her second hand dream car from a bafflingly superfluous used car salesman is all light, fun and entertaining in its own special way, it just drags on way too long for what's really just a narrative reason to get nine victims to the same abandoned remote factory.
It's entertaining when the world of the gangsters and zombies finally collide; it's just baffling so much attention was heaped on the one part of the zombie story that really didn't need much at all; especially given the brief part each of the characters was ultimately going to play once it kicked off. On top of all this Muroga also deemed it necessary to provide a western narrative and even a love story, that could sit over the chaos to present it all as reasonable, coherent and plausible but again like the gangster preamble it all ends up feeling a tad half hearted and redundant. I should reiterate that it's not all bad though as when focused on zombies and death Muroga gets it entertainingly right.
We have DNX, a highly experimental US funded drug which has brought Miwa back to life as an insatiable neck biter and flesh eater. We have the two doctors that administered the drug now bitten and turned into Romero tradition zombies too implying oral / viral transmission and a situation that could quite easily expand out of hand. Then to top it all off, in full on Return of the Living Dead tradition we have a bit of an industrial accident, a vial is spilled and the remaining corpses are up and joining in too.
There's a bit of a mix going on if we're honest; Kyôko it seems is actually quite intelligent and powerful, in a kind of possessed The Evil Dead / The Exorcist / Manga kind of way; those freshly bitten are blue tinted ponderous walkers straight out of Dawn of the Dead and the extras are a hideous bunch of foul fetid maggoty horrors that look like they've shuffled straight from filming Bruno Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead; which for reference, also concluded in a very similar looking industrial complex. One could nit-pick the non uniformity or design of it all, but it doesn't really matter. The zombies are fun, dark, dangerous and there's copious quantities of well-presented gore on display. The final superhuman Kyôko who survives a head shot, only to come back stronger with different colour hair doesn't make any sense at all but by now I'm starting to get used to Japan's need for a boss fight and it was at least captivatingly stupid.
Junk may be cheap but it is fun. The gangster and US military narratives are superfluous guff adding little to the trashy exploitative carnage that's the focus of the film but they're not actually offensive; and at a little over an hour and twenty minutes long I'm guessing Muroga needed some way to fill the time. It's daft, it's brash, there's some appalling English from some Japanese speakers and some painfully amateurish moments but you get the feeling Muroga knew all this and didn't really care. The mash of ideas and narratives never really gel yet in never firmly adopting any distinct identity, it kind of ends up getting one all of its own anyway and one can see how it got its name. A daft English / Japanese hybrid eighties throwback that's as entertaining as it is awful it's definitely worth a watch with a beer (or ten), 5/10.