Reality is too stupid to cry over.
Hikari (Keita Ninomiya) has always been a “single player.” That’s what happens when you’re raised in an affluent household by parents who substitute gifts for affection thanks to them never being around. Videogames became the boy’s only outlet. They gave him comfort when bullies at school put him in lockers and when he found himself microwaving yet another vacuum-sealed bag of spaghetti-for-one within his perpetually empty apartment. They’re also the medium by which he interprets reality’s framework for everything that happens to him outside of his tiny handheld screen. So Hikari can’t help but retreat further into that pixelated world when his parents are killed in a devastating bus accident. It becomes an event for him to conquer like an origin story rather than a tragedy to mourn.
To some his façade of apathetic indifference is unnerving. His aunt demands to know why he isn’t crying and the family stares quizzically when he refuses to give one last goodbye at the funeral. In his mind, however, he doesn’t see the point of emotion. Babies cry when they need something fixed, but there’s nothing broken in Hikari’s life (he was alone while his parents were alive too). Feeling sad would only take his attention away from the adventure that stands before him with infinite possibilities if he’s willing to take the next step forward. It’s the same empty page that’s been turned for three more freshly orphaned children also numb to their abrupt loss of guardianship. Together they can discover their full potential away from suffocating adults.
What’s great about the blackly comic journey that Hikari, Ishi (Satoshi Mizuno), Takemura (Mondo Okumura), and Ikuko (Sena Nakajima) take in Makoto Nagahisa‘s Wî â Ritoru Zonbîzu [We Are Little Zombies] is the realization that these kids aren’t empty shells devoid of emotion. Their attitudes and actions may veer towards sociopathy, but that fact is evidence of pain rather than its absence. Hikari has never known love. Ishi has never known freedom. Takemura has never known safety. And Ikuko has never known truth. It was the lives they led before their parents’ death that rendered them into unfeeling zombies, not their lack of tears after. So why not join forces, procure tools, and embark upon a quest that just might allow them to hit reset and begin anew?
It’s a wild 8-bit, MIDI-scored ride that starts post-funeral as the ashes of their parents rise into the sky from the crematorium’s chimney. They’ll have to go back home to choose the one object from their past that they still want (not that Ishi ever uses that wok during the course of what follows) and remember why it is they’re ready to leave the rest behind. It’s time for a rebirth, but even that might still be hijacked by adults who are only out to exploit and capitalize on who they are. And what do they get out of the deal? Acclaim? Satisfaction? This quartet didn’t crave the attention of their peers then and none of them care that they have it now. Independence is still an illusion.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, though. Who doesn’t want to exorcise demons on-stage in front of millions regardless of whether they’re cheering the aesthetic artifice and not the resonate vulnerability of speaking truth through music? Forming a rock band allows them to be listened to, but they’re still not being heard. The result of the colorfully electric chaos inevitably turns dark as a result due to the public’s attempts to “help” and ultimately make things worse. First comes the record label squashing creativity for marketability. Next is the internet taking metaphor at face value to create even more heartache. With unpredictable ups and downs along the way, their videogame progressions turn surreal, fantastical, and horrific until they realize the boss at the end is each of them.
They are in control and have been from the start. Even when it felt like their choices were thrust upon them, they chose introversion, acquiescence, futility, and deception. Hikari wanted to retreat into his games. Ishi wanted to make his father proud. Takemura wanted to protect his family from his dad. And Ikuko wanted to be left alone. Does their decision to act on those impulses fatefully saving them from being with their parents when the reaper came make them responsible? No. They’re just kids after all—kids who have been weighed down by impossible expectations without the necessary support system to come out the other side victorious. To therefore find that support in each other is to invite change and push forward towards the unknown.
As everyone eventually discovers, we’re all “single players” at the end of the day. It’s merely better to embrace that fact out of readiness and desire rather than having it thrust upon us too soon. Because Hikari and company are able to become a created family that actually cares about one another’s future as something that’s unwritten, they can eventually go their separate ways with strength rather than obligation. The emptiness they feel can become a driving force for more rather than an excuse to simply give up. Even in isolation, our actions impact those around us. Just because these kids are “single players” doesn’t mean they don’t give each other courage to succeed as such. We’re all zombies until someone arrives to remind us that we’re alive.
courtesy of Oscilloscope