Zombies are the new black. There are at least five TV shows currently on air featuring the undead—not including vampires—and countless movies in the works. Like no other species, zombies have endured in entertainment.
But how do you make the dead fresh? You place them a Shakespearean setting. Screenwriter Koji Steven Sakai did just that with his debut novel, Romeo and Juliet vs. Zombies. Available October online, the novel is a love potion for both horror and Bard fans. Sakai, who also saw his three year work bringing the Hello Kitty exhibition to the Japanese American National Museum come to fruition, talked to Wide Lantern about his book. Hmm…Sanrio and Zombies—that’s got a bit of zing, too.
What made you want to tackle Shakespeare and update it with zombies?
The only thing I love more than Romeo and Juliet are zombies, so it was the first time I’ve been able to marry my two loves in my writing. And if you think about it, Romeo and Juliet is the perfect play to include the undead because so many of the characters in the story already die.
Will horror fans and Bard fans both be appeased?
I hope so. For Shakespeare fans, I tried to stay true to the play as much as possible. But I also tried to expand on the story a bit. I know it’s sacrilegious to say something like that, but I had always wondered what would have happened if Romeo and Juliet had actually lived. Would they have even liked each other? After all, they had only known each other for two days. In Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, I was able to explore the idea of what happens after their brief (and tumultuous) affair.
As far as horror fans, I think they’ll be pleased. Lots of people dying. Verona is overrun with the undead. It’s a full on zombie apocalypse.
Many of Shakespeare’s stories are modernized without the audience realizing the base material. But you’re actually setting your story in the world that Shakespeare created. Why did you opt for that?
I set it in the Middle Ages for a couple of reasons. First, because it was intended to take place in the actual story of Romeo and Juliet. Secondly, I haven’t seen a lot of historical zombie pieces and thought it be fun to explore that. But the most important reason came when I did some research on the idea of historical zombies. Apparently, during the Black Plague some people actually thought that the dead were rising.
Sounds crazy, right? But it actually happened. The scenario went something like this. Two friends would return to a village from another town. One of the travelers would fall ill (with the plague) and then eventually pass out. That person would soon appear dead. The healthy friend would bury them in a shallow grave and go into town to find help bringing the body home. He would return with help only to find the ground disturbed. Then the “dead” friend would appear. He would have scratches and blood all over them (because they had to dig themselves out). The “dead” friend would often attack his friend, infecting him and they would all soon die.
So many Movies and TV shows are revisiting old franchises including literary works. Some are successfully done and some are not. What have you learned from others not to do?
I usually like all the mash ups. My favorite ones are the one where it feels real. For example, when I read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I was so engrossed in the story it was sometimes hard to distinguish what was real (true to Abraham Lincoln) and what was fiction. I also like it when writers take different perspectives on classic stories—like Wicked.
Why’d you decide to write a novel as opposed to a screenplay and is one an eventual outcome?
Actually, it started off as a screenplay. The publisher loved it and asked me to make a novel out of it. My hope is to see it as a film or a TV show.
Scheduled for an October release, veteran screenwriter Koji Steven Sakai’s Romeo & Juliet vs. Zombies turns the Shakespeare classic on its head, switching up the events we thought we knew. Before true love has a chance to grow, Romeo and Juliet must fight to overcome hoards of zombies that include Tybalt, Mercutio, and even Juliet’s nurse. Sakai’s version of the beloved tale forces Romeo to fight for Juliet’s respect…even if that means picking up a sword that (gulp) could actually hurt someone. And who started the whole mess in the first place? None other than Friar Lawrence, desperate to keep his deceased lady love talking and walking.
This exciting new mashup falls under Zharmae Publishing Press’ fantasy imprint Luthando Coeur and will soon be available online through major online book retailers and in the company’s online store.