Tokusatsu Network writer Rain reviews Zeiram, the 90s bounty hunting tokusatsu movie directed by Keita Amemiya.
Keita Amemiya is a familiar name to many tokusatsu fans. Creator of GARO, director of Kamen Rider J and Kamen Rider ZO, character designer for Kamen Rider Black and Kamen Rider Black RX – and that’s just a taste of his extensive filmography. The second film he ever directed was Zeiram, released in 1991 and followed in 1994 by Zeiram 2. The movies aren’t well known compared to his other, more prominent work with Toei like Chojin Sentai Jetman, but despite flying under the radar Zeiram is an incredibly fun watch that I think deserves far more attention.
Zeiram follows a plot somewhat reminiscent of Terminator or ET where ordinary humans get caught up in something far larger than them. Two ordinary electricians, Kamiya (Yukijiro Hotaru) and Teppei (Kunihiro Ida), accidentally find themselves wrapped up in what should have been an ordinary bounty hunting expedition for alien Iria (Yuko Moriyama) and her computer assistant Bob (Masakazu Handa). Iria is hunting Zeiram, a genetically engineered weapon that’s nigh-indestructible. After bumbling into the Zone, an alternate dimension made by Iria to capture Zeiram, Kamiya and Teppei have to work with Iria to kill Zeiram and get home alive.
There’s definitely a tension of genre in Zeiram. Kamiya and Teppei are a comedic duo at times; they tease each other and their desperate attempts for survival are often ineffective or downright unhelpful. This is paired against Iria, who is a mature and self-assured bounty hunter. She initially wants nothing to do with the two, but the trio warm up to each other over the course of their harrowing ordeal. While I can see why some people might not like the human perspective in the film, I found it surprisingly touching. Despite being completely outclassed by Zeiram, they use good old human ingenuity (and desperation) to defend themselves against it – for example, by backing into it with a truck. They bring an emotional core to the film that would be sorely lacking without them.
Of the characters, however, Iria is definitely my favourite. Resourceful, serene and a little reckless, Iria is a force to be reckoned with. She faces Zeiram unflinchingly, and watching her cycle through sci-fi weapons is a blast. Bob and her act almost like siblings – Bob the cautious and mathematical side of their partnership who, despite being a computer, is bursting with personality. Zeiram itself is also a fun character. Not just an emotionless killing machine, Zeiram comes off as actively malicious. Its true core – a small, white face resting on its ‘hat’ – cackles and growls, becoming enraged when its prey gets the upper hand.
Alongside its engaging cast, Zeiram is a cornucopia of practical effects. Zeiram itself is a marvel of character design, with multiple forms that are both parts beautiful and creepy. Every form looks more organic and skeletal than the last, culminating in breathtaking claymation and practical effects that are well worth the watch.
I could go on and on about how much I love Zeiram. It has all the hallmarks of a blockbuster 90s sci-fi, so I really hope in the future it gets the attention it very much deserves. There’s also a sequel, Zeiram 2, which features a new look for Zeiram and a touching continuation to the plot threads set up for Kamiya and Teppei in the first movie. It does, however, follow the same beats of the original a bit too much, with the same threats – Kamiya and Teppei once again end up fighting Zeiram with Iria in a quickly disintegrating Zone. I would still highly recommend it, though. Who in their right mind would turn down more Zeiram?
Zeiram is actually a surprisingly big franchise. Along with two movies, a prequel anime was made called Iria: Zeiram the Animation, which had its own SNES and PlayStation games. The movies, however, stand on their own as wonderful examples of the power of practical effects and the perfect casting of Yuko Moriyama as Iria.