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Empire of Corpses, The

Entry updated 28 March 2022. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (2015). Original title Shisha no Teikoku. Based on the novel by Project Itoh (see Keikaku Itō) and Toh Enjoe. Wit Studio. Directed by Ryoutarou Makihara. Written by Midori Goto, Hiroshi Seko and Koji Yamamoto. Voice cast includes Kana Hanazawa, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Kōji Ishii, Taiten Kusunoki, Shinichiro Miki, Ayumu Murase, Akio Ōtsuka, Jirō Saitō and Takayuki Sugō. 126 minutes. Colour.

After creating his Frankenstein Monster, Victor Frankenstein (see Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley) disappeared. The dead continued to be reanimated (see Zombies) but by an inferior method that provides obedient, unthinking workers and soldiers to power the industrial revolution and British Empire (see Alternate History); other nations create them too. In the UK they are mass produced in the Tower of London using a process involving the Analytical Engine, fittingly named Charles Babbage.

In 1878 John Watson (Hosoya) (see Sherlock Holmes) is arrested for illegally attempting to replicate Frankenstein's work, wishing to bring his zombified friend, nicknamed Friday (Murase), to full sentience. M (Ōtsuka) of the British Secret Service coerces him into finding Frankenstein's lost research data, thought (wrongly) to be held by Alexei Karamazov (Miki) from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1879-1880 The Russian Messenger; 1880). Adventures in India, Afghanistan, Japan and San Francisco follow, before a return to the Tower of London. Watson and Friday acquire historical companions: Frederick Burnaby (Kusunoki), Seigo Yamazawa (Saitō) and Ulysses S. Grant (Ishii), plus Hadaly Lilith (Hanazawa) (an Android created by Thomas Edison in Villiers de L'Isle-Adam's L'Ève future (1886)), who wields a flamethrower against Karamazov's improved zombies. They meet The One (Sugō), aka Frankenstein's Monster, and as conscious as any human. He intends an Identity Transfer with Friday and to make Lilith his bride; meanwhile M plots to end all War by turning everyone into Zombies: these plans involve the Analytical Engine and Frankenstein's brain (also housed in the Tower). Both are foiled. Watson combines Frankenstein's and Karamazov's research, experimenting on himself, making Friday conscious; at the close Lilith goes by the name of Irene Adler and we briefly see Watson with Sherlock.

The combining of historical and fictional figures recall the works of Kim Newman: there are many other nods and allusions. The film's weaknesses include unremarkable characterization and clotted plotting: despite its length, it tries to fit in too much (the visits to other countries are intriguing but too short) and does not cohere (for example, the properties of the Analytical Engine seem to shift). Nevertheless, this is a good-looking, entertaining Steampunk romp, with the backdrop of a worldwide zombie working class giving a disturbing though under-examined edge. The nature of consciousness and the soul (see Identity; Metaphysics) is also considered, an important conceit being that the purported findings of Duncan MacDougall's 1907 "21 grams experiment" (suggesting that souls have a measurable weight) are valid.

This was the first of three animated films based on the writings of Project Itoh (Keikaku Itō), the other two being Harmony (2015) and Genocidal Organ (2017; original title Gyakusatsu Kikan). [SP]


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