Zombie movies are not new to our sensibilities. Anyone planning on making a zombie flick is under a great deal of pressure to avoid the trodden path and yet give the thrills expected with this subgenre of horror comedy. Yusuke Ishida’s Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead tries to showcase its own take on the zombie apocalypse through the compelling metaphor of corporate slavery.
The story of Zom 100 is told as an adventure tale experienced by a freshly employed Akira Tendo. Akira thinks that as a new member of the workforce, he will get to experience an exciting life, but he soon understands that the reality is completely different. The unending working hours, the overtime, and the authoritarian leaders all ensure that Akira loses his spirit entirely, until one day, it is reawakened by a zombie apocalypse, and he resolves to check everything off his bucket list. The makers seem influenced by cult classics such as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, and through a goofy and charming performance by Eiji Akaso, the character of Akira is brilliantly brought to life. Let’s take a look at his character in Zom 100.
Eiji Akaso as Akira Tendo
Not every person has the same level of enthusiasm as Akira does for his new job. He was a football star in college and had a glow on his face and an energetic quality about him that marked him as a great athlete. The job doesn’t call for much athleticism. It’s a desk job, and after the first day, Akira senses something strange about his job. Soon, he realizes the job is unlike anything he had imagined. The work was never-ending, and it was draining him of his energy to do anything else in his life. But he kept his spirits up by finding inspiration in his colleagues’ success, especially Ohtori. Akira saw her climbing the corporate ladder, and he thought the pressure he was under would last only a few days. Akira started to develop a crush on Ohtori. He didn’t know that she was involved with the company’s director, which is why she seemed to grow successful in such a short time. Akira was utterly naive, and he was getting exploited in the office. As the first year of his job started to come to an end, he understood that he didn’t have the courage to quit and would have to slog his way through.
The year came to a close, and it took a zombie apocalypse for Akira to realize what he should do with his life. Literally, the first thing that crossed his mind when Akira saw the zombies running around the streets of Japan was that he didn’t have to work. Finally, a pretext to skip work! Akira was literally so exhausted that he didn’t care one bit about the state of the world. For him, it was like a much-needed break where he could actually live. The job had not succeeded in changing his core aspiration, which was to live an exciting life.
For such a long period, he had been denied that kind of life, which is why when he got the day off, he made a bucket list of the things he would like to do before he became a zombie. It was a miracle he wasn’t one of them, and the job had almost made him a corporate zombie long before he saw actual ones, even if he wasn’t fully aware of that fact. Akira’s bucket list contained items that had the greatest range one would ever see. There were intimate personal objectives like apologizing to his best friend Kencho, to whom Akira had said some nasty things earlier; and then there was the heavy bullet point on the list like saving the world from zombies as a superhero. It was preposterous, but Akira was full of life, and nothing was going to stop him, especially not the zombies.
Akira’s courage is a virtue that is so admirable, but he can’t use it against his tyrannical bosses. How and when to question authority was a lesson he needed to learn. This particular item was nowhere on his bucket list, and while he began his adventure to check each item off the page, he wasn’t aware that his journey would go on to teach him that exact lesson. He couldn’t have done it alone. He met Shizuka on one of his outings and immediately grew fond of her. There was an item on his bucket list, which was to say ‘I love you’ to someone. He had already professed his ‘love’ for Ohtori (after she turned into a zombie!) and checked it off his bucket list, but Akira was too young to realize that it was an infatuation and not love.
Shizuka was fierce in her own way and didn’t want anybody holding her down, so she liked to work alone. Akira had different opinions in this regard. He values friendship a lot, which is why he saves Kencho and apologizes to him. They became a duo, and when Shizuka joined them, albeit hesitantly, they became a trio. Akira wanted to be a superhero, and as Shizuka and Kencho wanted him to complete his bucket list, they headed toward an aquarium, where Akira would procure a special suit made by the deep-sea divers to protect them against shark bites. Akira planned to wear the suit, and without worrying about getting bit, he would save the uninfected ones.
The aquarium had already been taken over by Akira’s boss, Gonzo Kosugi. He was a tyrannical leader, and Akira couldn’t protest against him even once. Probably his notions or beliefs prevented him from doing so. A job meant being productive and useful for the company, listening to the boss, and complying with orders. That’s what makes an efficient employee, right? Well, not if you cannot raise your voice against exploitation. Akira, Shizuka, and Kencho ended up working in the aquarium, where a new society was emerging. The fish were plentiful, so staying in the aquarium meant food security and safety from the zombies. And here again, Gonzo, Akira’s boss, had started to show his true colors. He and his peers ate superior food, and the rest of the workers were given substandard food. Any protest would mean that they would be thrown out of the aquarium.
Shizuka and Kencho couldn’t stand being treated like second-class citizens, but it was Akira who couldn’t revolt against Gonzo. On the contrary, Akira started preaching to Shizuka and Kencho that it was in their best interest to slog in the aquarium, keeping the sham of a society working in Gonzo’s aquarium. Shizuka had to confront him and remind him what a courageous person Akira truly was, and that once again, he was being turned into a mindless zombie by Gonzo, and Akira did exactly as he was told, never questioning authority. She had to remind him of his bucket list, where the last item was to go on a trip as a “trio.”
Akira realized that he wasn’t meant to just live as Gonzo’s slave. This little intervention by his friends saved Akira, and when the zombies took over the aquarium, he fought to save everybody. He proved to be a real leader, which Gonzo never was. He ultimately got the suit he was coming to the aquarium for and killed the zombie shark (a shark that got bit by a zombie) after it went to attack Kencho. Akira had found his voice as a leader, which is why he requested Shizuka and Kencho to add their wishes to the bucket list, so the three were not just fulfilling his wishes but could go on an adventure together.