Empire of Corpses (Shisha no Teikoku)

Empire of Corpses (Shisha no Teikoku) 2015

I was only vaguely aware of this film up until last year – but the cover art of the DVD caught my eye and then upon doing a little reading I found out that the writer ‘Project Itoh’ had certainly been a significant voice in Japanese speculative fiction before his death at a young age, ten years ago now.

Empire… along with Harmony and Genocidal Organ are adaptations of his work collected under the moniker Project Itoh. Differing studios and teams worked on each film but you’ll no doubt recognise Wit Studio from Attack on Titan here.

So, finally to the film itself!

On one hand it’s definitely an exploration of personhood and life, of love and obsession, and while those aspects definitely worked for me, there’s just as much of Empire of Corpses that works as a fun mash-up instead.

There’s horror, action and (alternate) historical fiction all butting up against the philosophical elements in the movie, as the somewhat disparate historical figures of Holmes, Charles Babbage, Ulysses S Grant, Edison and Yamazawa Seigo (to name a few) are brought together in a world where a new breed of semi-autonomous zombies have been created – zombies who quickly became government fodder for war and labouring jobs.

While the colour scheme is mostly dark and somewhat muted, there’s still some spectacular high-contrast explosions and such that go hand in hand with action sequences and equally – a memorable opium-like haze of yellows, greens and pinks in a certain disturbing scene, and generally enough variety that it’s never dull.

The same can be said for the pacing, it’s got a good balance of ‘concept’ stuff spread between character development and action and of course the animation itself looks great, as most modern work does, so no gripes there from me. Bonus points for me with what is also essentially a quest storyline, as our main character Watson strives to save his friend Friday from living death.

Take a look if you’re a fan of zombies or mash-ups, I reckon.

4 Stars