Horror films give us a glimpse into the heroic potential that lives inside us all. Heroes of horror don’t need the tools and training of an expert secret agent – they’re everyday people thrown into an unreal situation who must rise to the occasion if they hope to survive. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. I Am a Hero is the wildly entertaining tale of a man who is woefully unprepared for that kind of responsibility.
I Am a Hero (based on the manga series of the same name) follows Hideo Suzuki (Yô Ôizumi, Spirited Away, Fullmetal Alchemist), a mild-mannered 35-year old manga artist assistant with low self-esteem and unfulfilled dreams. He’s deeply unsatisfied with his life – as is his girlfriend, who kicks him out of their shared apartment. Hideo is left with no safe haven as the volatile ZQN virus wreaks havoc through the city (though he is – at first – comically oblivious to the chaos around him).
When fleeing the city, Hideo meets a young woman named Hiromi (Kasumi Arimura, Samurai Angel Wars) who he vows to protect. Despite his best intentions, Hideo is not immediately suited for heroism. Armed with his sporting shotgun and faced with a world full of danger, Hideo must find the courage to step up for their survival.
In I Am a Hero, the ZQN virus turns its infected into zombified shells of their former selves. When they’re not consuming the flesh of the living, the infected show echoes of their humanity by repeating habitual actions; commuters ride an invisible subway while competitive athletes go through the motions of their former sport.
This characteristic of the virus is a clever way to redirect the usual shambling, mindless nature of the undead, and it makes each transformation uniquely horrific.
One particular scene early in the film shows an infected woman as she unnaturally contorts her body, thrashing around in attack. It’s brilliantly traumatic and very personal – like the spider walk in The Exorcist if Regan was completely dedicated to eating you alive.
Director Shinsuke Sato (Bleach, The Princess Blade) uses great skill to add visually affecting scenes that remind the viewer of the epic, dramatic scale of the outbreak. Other times, he will punch emotion into the chaos with quiet, focused character moments. Hideo’s fear and anxiety are well communicated thanks to Sato’s direction and Ôizumi’s stunning performance.
The talented Ôizumi is very effective as he leads Hideo on an emotional journey. We initially see his shortcomings as a fantastic point of humor, but as society continues to collapse, it is clear that Hideo is not built for this dark new world.
I Am a Hero speaks to our natural desire to be great – a champion for ourselves and others – and the crushing defeat that comes with the realization that you’re not meeting your own expectations.
Hideo finally makes a decision that culminates in a phenomenal finale that blasts away the psychological remnants of his former life.
The film’s climax also contains some of the most deeply satisfying zombie kills I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a joyful emotional payoff connected to each bashed skull. It’s a scene that runs long – it feels long – but it drives home the exhaustion of this last stand.
I Am a Hero is a viciously entertaining zombie film with a triumphant transformation. It’s a story about courage – about risk and breaking a lifelong acceptance of “average”. The zombie outbreak may be the end of the world, but for Hideo, it’s a new beginning.
I Am a Hero is now available on DVD. You can watch the trailer below!