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If you actually went out and spent the time to hunt down and watch “OneChanbara” (aka “Chanbara Beauty”), since it’s unlikely you’ll stumble across it while surfing your local channels, you really have no reason to complain about the film’s shortcomings. The movie sells itself: a bikini-clad beauty in a cowboy hat, armed with a Samurai sword, stalks a zombie-infested wasteland hunting her little sister and a mad doctor responsible for the zombie infestation. Her goal: kill lots of zombies, her little sister, and if time permits, the good doctor. Along the way, she befriends a loudmouth looking for his sister and a black leather-clad babe with a sawed off 12-gauge shotgun that never seems to run out of bullets, or indeed ever needs reloading. Yup, it’s that kind of movie.
“OneChanbara” is based on a series of videogames previously available only for the Playstation 2, but has since been ported over to the 360 and Wii (though curiously no Playstation 3). It stars newcomer Eri Otoguro as Aya, the bikini-clad babe with the Samurai sword, and Tomohiro Waki as Katsuji, our clothes-challenged heroine’s traveling companion. Although the film never addresses it, Aya’s bikini wardrobe is functional more than aesthetic; in the games, we learn that wearing as few clothes as possible during her zombie slayings allow Aya to be showered in her victim’s blood, thus giving her (even more) super powers. But hey, who really needs an explanation as to why the female lead in a zombie movie is in a bikini from beginning to end? I say just go with it.
Back to our story. Along the way, Aya and Katsuji befriend the leather-clad Reiko (Manami Hashimoto), who is looking for one Dr. Sugita (Taro Suwa), the big bad man responsible for the zombie plague. As it so happens, Sugita’s right hand (wo)man is none other than Saki (Chise Nakamura), Aya’s little sister, who killed their father when the two were young girls. (The why’s and how’s of the patricide are teased throughout the film, and revealed at the end.) As Katsuji explains it, the stoic Aya has not smiled or expressed any kind of emotion since he’s been acquainted with her, and it seems her only reason for living is to hunt down and kill Saki. This fits in well with Reiko’s mission to find Sugita and punish him for the whole zombie thing, which also claimed the life of her daughter, so naturally they team up.
And there you have it, the plot of “OneChanbara” described in two easy paragraphs, and told during one campfire scene early in the movie. It’s not much, but then again, it is a zombie movie from Japan, so we should be grateful it makes any kind of sense at all. If the Japanese have taught me anything, it’s that movies do not need to make sense. As in, at all. “OneChanbara” actually has a plot you can explain in a review, as well as some semblance of logical plot progression. Heck, there are even character arcs for those interested in such things, and who would ever think a Japanese zombie movie would have that? What will they think of next, zombie movies where the zombies aren’t zombies at all, but victims of some sort of infection? God forbid.
For a film that at times look made on the cheap, with its grainy night-time digital video footage and questionable “sets”, “OneChanbara” does boast some spiffy special effects, with the highlight being Saki and Aya’s climactic sword battle. Co-writer/director Yôhei Fukuda, making his feature film debut, directs the film with a solid understanding of what viewers expect – plenty of opportunities to leer at his heroine and outrageous action scenes. I doubt if you’ll be asking yourself why certain zombies are shambling wrecks while others seem to have developed superpowers thanks to Sugita’s extra special zombie serum. How special? It can turn a little kidnapped girl into a mace-wielding badass in no time lickity split! And you probably won’t be wondering too much why Reiko ditched her motorcycle just to walk around with her new partners, either.
Clocking in at a breezy 80 minutes, “OneChanbara” is an easy sit-through, and it helps if you are used to the Japanese’s “you need to see it to believe it” interpretation of the zombie genre. It goes without saying that the Japanese have an entirely different approach to flesh-eating zombies, as evidenced by Fukuda’s film and similar entries like “Junk”, “Wild Zero”, and “Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies”. “OneChanbara” is certainly an easy enough film to market to an international audience, with its odd sensibilities, hot babes with swords, and a female lead that was made to be slapped on a DVD box cover. Of course you may have to look for it beyond your usual videostore haunts, and you may want to ask for a male clerk to cash you out…
For a film adapted from a series of successful videogames, “OneChanbara” at times feels like a zombie movie shot on the weekends with friends and family. Certainly the digital video format, a mainstay in Japanese cinema, doesn’t do the film any favors, with the nighttime sequences coming across as sometimes painfully cheap. Then again, you might be too busy ogling the lead actress as she hacks and slashes her way through an endless horde of zombies, somehow always managing to keep her cowboy hat on at all times, to notice the spotty visuals. Fans of zombie movies will certainly enjoy the film, and purveyors of action movies starring gals with weapons won’t find a whole lot to complain about either.
Yôhei Fukuda (director) / Yôhei Fukuda, Yasutoshi Murakawa (screenplay)
CAST:Eri Otoguro … Aya
Tomohiro Waki … Katsuji
Taro Suwa … Dr. Sugita
Manami Hashimoto … Reiko
Chise Nakamura … Saki
Ai Hazuki … Maria
Sari Kurauchi … Asami