Sundance Review: We Are Little Zombies

Imagine a world in which everything was taken from you – your parents, your safety net, your well-being, and your ability to feel. This is exactly what happens to 13 year old Hikari when his parents suddenly die from a tragic car accident. Even worse, he can’t even cry about it… 

We Are Little Zombies is a creative burst of energy that is capable of touching hearts all around the world. The story follows young Hikari and his three friends – Ikuko, Ishi and Takemura, who’ve all recently lost their parents. What’s even more bizarre than their union is the fact that none of them can shed a tear. For any 13 year old, the devastation of losing a parent would lead to emotional trauma, but for the Little Zombies, it’s just another day in life. With no hopes and dreams to fulfill their lives, the Little Zombies find themselves on a quest of self discovery and emotion. Together, they survive on each other’s company while forming a kick-ass band – all in hopes of retrieving their ability to feel.


When asked about the inspiration behind We Are Little Zombies, director Makoto Nagahisa said that his intentions were to make a film that would not push children to despair. “I hope it touches the heart of those who are crouching in dark rooms alone,” he said. And that’s exactly what the film is capable of doing. It’s heartwarming yet grounded in its reflection of grief and loss, and the story provides its characters opportunities to learn about themselves and the lives they are capable of living. Furthermore, the film pushes its audiences to reflect on desolation while simultaneously offering a joyous and moving story to engage in.

Within the film, it is evident that Nagahisa is an avid fan of video game culture. He creatively uses vibrant colors and gaming aesthetics to progress his story and show the Little Zombies’ journey towards emotional reckoning. Together with DP Hiroaki Takeda, Nagahisa’s hyper pop and exuberant style brings to life incredible imagery, visuals and an experience that is imaginative and inspiring. As a result, this creative feature becomes an exciting adventure that is full of life and emotion even when his characters are lacking it.

Though the film is mostly devoid of emotion (from the characters), Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi, and Takemura are played by young actors who give so much passion to their respective roles. Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, and Sena Nakajima each represent young teens who’ve been hit with tragedies, but they find everything in their restricted power to make the best of their situation. Their performances are superb in that regard, and audiences will fall in love with their unbreakable bonds that were formed out of adversity.

As the Little Zombies band together during their adventures, they find solace in using music to convey the emotions they can’t actually feel. Katsuya Kamo, the film’s music producer, does an incredible job of incorporating music into the film. Together with director Makoto Nagahisa, who wrote the lyrics for all the original scores, Kamo’s quirky and nostalgic music provides innovative sounds throughout the film that are used creatively in scene transitions. It makes for an exciting and energetic final product.


At times, the film gets a little hectic with the amount of ideas that went into the making of this feature. Most notably, this occurs in the final 30 minutes of the film in which it feels as if the narrative and story take a turn away from the film’s central focus: reconnecting with emotions. Conversely, it opens up a conversation about second chances and finding a way to live through tragedy. So while the film may have taken an overly ambitious turn, good intentions were planted, and audiences will still find connectivity to its overall message. 

Makoto Nagahisa’s We Are Little Zombies is a story about connecting with things and people even though his characters cannot. In their quest to retrieve their ability to feel, the Little Zombies learn about love, loss and life in a way that will resonate with audiences all over the world. This boisterous drama celebrates raw emotion, music and video game culture with a natural appreciation for how it might impact our lives even at very young ages, making it one of the most special films of Sundance 2019.


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