As someone who tends to favor the low-budget, the twisted, and the purposely bizarre, it’s really no surprise that this endless wave of violent, over-the-top action currently streaming out of Japan amuses me to no end. It honestly doesn’t matter how trashy, sleazy, or generally unpleasant the picture may be — all I need is an abundance of intentionally strange set pieces punctuated with the sort of copious bloodletting that would greatly disturb the well-adjusted, socially productive members of society. Story, characterization, and a multi-tiered plot are nice things to have, but they aren’t necessarily required. I’m guess I’m just shallow like that.
An organic sense of the absurd is essential to enjoying something as slipshod and low-budget as Kenichi Fujiwara’s goofy 2008 undead actioner “Zombie Hunter Rika” (aka “High School Girl Rika: Zombie Hunter”), a film that pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to wanton violence and stupidity. However, despite the picture’s lofty attempts to emulate the outlandish theatrics of its contemporaries, Fujiwara and company ultimately fall short of the mark. It’s certainly not the worst “Japanese schoolgirl battles hordes of blood-thirsty zombies” film I’ve seen as of late, but it doesn’t do enough original things with this paper-thin premise to set itself apart from the other like-minded movies currently clamoring for your attention.
The picture follows the random adventures of tenacious high school student Rika, another typical teenage girl living on daydreams and giggles somewhere in the heart of Tokyo. During an impromptu quest to locate her estranged grandfather, Rika and her best friend accidentally discover that the countryside has been overrun by legions of the living dead. To escape certain doom, the shrieking duo hitch a ride with a suspicious gentleman who, coincidentally, is on his merry way to Rika’s grandfather’s secluded mansion. What she doesn’t realize, of course, is that her beloved relative is quite ill, a condition that may have something to do with his attractive wife’s plan to relieve the poor bastard of his entire fortune.
Not surprisingly, the zombies eventually make their way into the house, savagely murdering a trio of bickering maids before taking a big juicy bite out of Rika’s right arm. The event stirs Grandpa from his dementia-induced coma, and using his skills as one of Japan’s most dedicated surgeons, attaches the closest arm within reach to his mutilated granddaughter’s body. What he doesn’t know, of course, is that the appendage once belonged to the world’s most accomplished zombie hunter, and his legendary powers are now coursing through Rika’s reluctant veins. This skills will undoubtedly come in handy, as the gaggle of ghouls lurking about the property never shows signs of waning.
I could literally spend several lengthy paragraphs explaining the specifics of “Zombie Hunter Rika’s” ambitious storyline, though I wouldn’t even think of subjecting you to such needless misery. After all, the whole concept doesn’t really look too amusing on paper. To be perfectly honest, the numerous subplots, extraneous characters, and needless exposition ultimately don’t matter too much in the long run. You’re here for the unadulterated zombie carnage administered by an attractive Japanese girl with a penchant for cuteness and extreme violence. If these elements are present, a script really need not exist. Like I said, maybe I’m just shallow like that.
Although Fujiwara’s skills behind the camera are admittedly less than impressive, the rookie director does an admirable job of delivering the sort of intentionally campy, gloriously low-brow tomfoolery fans have come to expect from the genre. However, the sequences in which Rika, powered by her mysterious new appendage, hacks and slashes her way through dozens of zombie bastards could have used a bit more polish and a lot more spunk, though you’ll immediately forgive the film its shortcomings once you realize how much fun it’s having with the material. There’s a lot to be said for that.
“Zombie Hunter Rika” isn’t nearly as sharp, clever, or inventive as “Tokyo Gore Police,” “The Machine Girl,” or their ilk, but the film does what it does with a fair amount of humor and style. The concept of an average, everyday schoolgirl with an abnormally large arm jutting from her shoulder is certainly amusing, especially when said member is used to dispatch plenty of sword-wielding carnage to an endless supply of grease-paint zombies. Chances are you already know if you love this movie or not, and, truthfully, you should probably stick with that gut instinct. The picture definitely isn’t going to please everyone, but if you’re drawn to the odder side of cinema, there’s enough positive elements on-hand to warrant your attention.
Kenichi Fujiwara (director) / Kenichi Fujiwara & Takeyuki Morikaku (screenplay)
CAST: Mina Arai