Fantasia Film Review: Seoul Station

seoul-stationOne of my biggest qualms with Anime feature films is when all the focus turns to the visuals and the story has little meat on brittle bones. I can appreciated a well done visual style, but after half an hour my focus is on the story and the imagery is the background.

For Seoul Station, director Yeon Sang-Ho didn’t shut out the real world but rather brought zombies to it. Rather that give us an idealistic view, he portrays a city where the homeless, the working class, the sex trade, the police and the government all deal with social stigmas. A man is walking around a subway station. He’s bleeding from the next. Two young men see him and are concerned. One approaches him to ask if he’s ok and he smells the stench coming from him, identifying him as a homeless person. He immediately backs away and goes back to his friend, explaining the guy is just homeless. A conversation that could happen anywhere in the world.

As the zombie outbreak starts, it becomes evident that everyone is ill prepared. Hae-sun is girl trying to escape being pimped out by her boyfriend ends out having to seek refuge with the homeless only to find they’re being chased by zombies. The group tries to find protection with the station’s guards who believe they’re all part of the same oncoming swarm. Once the zombies get there, the survivors are forced to lock themselves up in a cell, where the remaining guard points a gun… at the homeless people inside. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Ki-woong has run into Suk-guy who’s identified as Hae-sun’s father. Now they both are trying to reach Hae-sun through a zombie infested city.

The movie doesn’t scale the social tension that exist in the real world. Unlike most run of the mill anime, the faces are realistically depicted and distinctively Asian. For Hae-sun, this is a nightmare and she yearns to go home. For the homeless old man that she follows, the world is more of a nightmare than usual, but there’s no home to run to. Before the night is over, the police and the military will get involved and that will not be a happy ending. As for our characters, there’s a couple of twists ahead that I won’t spoil for you.

Highs: Animation here is a vehicle to a story. The setting is Seoul, South Korea but it could be almost anywhere on Earth. Instead of the usually positive message of all classes uniting, this is more of an everyone for themselves. A realistic portrayal of the human condition in front of an impossible crisis. The zombies are fake, but the social message is very much real. The twists at the end show we still have more to fear from people than zombies.

Lows: Anime and zombie fans that see this film might be turned off by the style or the social commentary. Actually, most zombie fans are used to social commentary so they should be ok.

Recommended with reservations. The story takes the front seat while the animation is just a medium, not that the animation is not well done but you should be following the story after all. Don’t expect mechas.

Coming up next, if I don’t switch them around again:

That will do for now.

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