14Japanese cinema frequently uses Westerners as extras, so much so that is common for people staying in Japan for an extended period to up with an agency and fill background roles. However, a less prevalent trend is a Westerner having more creative control of an Asian movie, a unique example exhibited here in the instance of Schoolgirl Apocalypse. With American director John Cairns having full creative control over the whole production.
What is it?
Schoolgirl Apocalypse is a 2011 Japanese zombie horror, and debut feature length film written and directed by John Cairns. The story was also been novelized by the director and published in 2012.
“Sakura is your typical Japanese school girl that lives in a small town in the mountains. One day at school, during archery practice, her teacher and classmate start acting strange. Soon, all the men in the town turn aggressive and start attacking the women. Sakura goes on the run to find the source of the problem. Along the way she meets a mother and her son, who’s been infected. She gets some supplies from the mother and soon encounters another woman, but she’s not so friendly. She’s holding 2 people captive. The captives aren’t who they seem to be. What’s the real cause of the madness?”
Using a beautiful rural area for the majority of the production, the film was shot in the pulchritudinous town of Numazu over a two-week period. The use of an abandoned love hotel and other neglected locations is effective in its portrayal of an apocalyptic scenario, sure to resonate with audiences. Although the remote locale lacks the initial dangers of being in a highly populated area during a cataclysmic event, it’s a mercy to the budgetary limitations and delivers a novel scale to such a crisis.
Undergoing an impressive amount of training in a short period, Actress Hino Riga had only three days to learn the art of Kyudo before filming began. This put a lot of stress on the filming process, with many retakes involving any scene using the bow, although a prop was used in filming due to the sheer strength it takes to wield a proper Kyudo bow safely. Despite this, the film is an accurate representation of the technical skills needed to execute Kyudo. The protagonist Sakura being portrayed as a novice is an intelligent choice to excuse any perceived inadequacies in her technique, and explains any minor inconsistencies which a higher skill level would not permit.
Impressive in its implementation, the film’s special effects are a definite highlight of the production. Being phenomenally realistic yet simple, they display visuals of violence and bloodshed gorgeously. Schoolgirl Apocalypse lacks the gratuitous violence the genre is known for, exhibiting a more authentic approach compounded by its sporadic use, the moderation succeeds to not yield any ridiculous results. The film relies mainly on practical effects, however there are a few instances of CGI ranging in quality from adequate to poor. Nevertheless, the poorer quality effects are never the focus of a scene and conclude fairly quickly.
An interesting take on the aggressive, infected zombie subgenre, the film is atypical when it comes to the usual formula. Choosing to establish few details in the story’s beginning, this dearth of information is effective at creating a suspenseful experience overall, sharing a similar ignorance to our protagonist. Consequently, this ‘ignorance is bliss’, as the film twists to its unexpected conclusion, is an incredibly bold choice by John Caines. Without too much detail, the film’s ending has a 50s’ sci-fi feel that is both unexpected and outrageous in design yet confidently original.
What didn’t work?
The film features a number of dream sequences, realised through the medium of animation. These scenes drastically slow down the already slower than the usual pace of the film, feeling vastly displaced from the entire production as a needless slog. Undoubtedly, depicting these scenes as live action, like the rest of the film, would not have been difficult; their contents aren’t too fantastical to realise on film and would negate this problem entirely. However, despite this issue, these scenes are usually quite short, rounding up to a few minutes each, and are an essential element to fully comprehending the unfolding story.
Where Can I Find It?
Midori Impuls has a beautiful limited edition run of the film in a beautiful hard-cover DVD including a 12-page booklet and signed signature card from director John Caines (limited to 500 copies). This DVD is full of extra features including;
- Making of features:
– Location Hunting Horrors
– Found Footage
– Kyudo Training
– Monsters & Idols
- Interview with John Cairns (director, Script, editor)
- Interview with Higarino (Sakura)
- Special Report – Japan Filmfest Hamburg
- Trailer show
Schoolgirl Apocalypse is an intriguing zombie romp, unafraid to take risks in an attempt to create something unconventional. Although slower in pace than the usual energy associated with the chaotic genre, it has beautifully composed cinematography and an intriguing air of mystery to the story – both precipitating a suspenseful atmosphere as a core strength. The film takes inspiration from films such as 28 Days Later, as well as manga such as the works of Junji Ito and Kuzou Umezu, which are all apparent upon close inspection.
Along with an unexpected twist ending that pushes it into a league of its own, the film is a stellar directorial debut from John Caines, who, as an American director, has captured the essence of J-horror films perfectly. Fans of post-apocalyptic zombie films will definitely get a kick out of this piece of independent cinema.
Hey there, I’m Jim and I’m located in London, UK. I am a Writer and Technical Director here at Grimoire of Horror. A life long love of horror and writing has led me down this rabbit hole, allowing me to meet many amazing people and experience some truly original artwork. I specialise in world cinema, manga/graphic novels and video games but will sometime traverse into the unknown in search of adventure.