Director: Yohei Fukuda
Featuring: Eri Otoguro, Tomohiro Waki, Taro Suwa, Manami Hashimoto
Running Time: 86 minutes
Available for purchase at: Madman Online Store ($29.95)
Japanese low-budget zombie films are notorious for their terrible animation, their bad acting, and their naked (or near-naked) leading ladies. In an age where the indie film reigns supreme, sometimes you need a bad movie or two just to lighten up the mood and to laugh at.
Luckily, Chanbara Beauty has everything we love about the low-budget zombie films. The acting is terrible, the fake blood splatter on the screen looks like it was animated in the 90s, and the main protagonist wears a bikini and shorts (although it really could be described more as shorts). However, this film’s got that extra something with some of its characters and visuals, which makes me like it more than the handful of other films I’ve seen in that respective genre.
The story is your typical, cookie-cutter zombie apocalypse plot: the world is filled with zombies and there’s some vengeful human woman out there in the world that somehow possesses the power to stop them.
The film takes place in the future, where a crazed doctor, Doctor Sugita (Taro Suwa), has engineered a formula to resurrect the dead as zombies. The world is so overrun with the undead that families have to kill their own just to survive. Amongst those who are still human, there is Aya (Eri Otoguro), Katsuji (Tomohiro Waki), and Reiko (Manami Hashimoto) who all meet and become united in their quest to stop Doctor Sugita’s mad plans. However, there is a catch: one of the people helping the doctor is actually Aya’s younger sister, Saki (Chise Nakamura). Together, the three companions must fight the zombie-infested path to the doctor in order to seek their revenge for the havoc he has wreaked on the world.
First things first: Chanbara Beauty is actually based on an action game called Oneechanbara for PS2. However, the plot of that one was more about fighting zombies and the writers of this film had to do a lot to translate the game into a film.
The plot is as stereotypical as they come, and within the plot there are plenty of moments where there are long-winded and dramatic appeals to the heartstrings of the audience. The overarching plot is a perfect example of this: the younger sister working for the bad guy, and the main character that must fight her own family for the greater good of the world. While this would normally bother me and cause me to fastforward, Chanbara Beauty’s overdramatic moments actually seemed quite genuine and, although the moments were more common than a McDonalds, held my attention for a tad longer than any other films of the same style would. The narrative was also told using a few flashbacks, which was a great touch to lessen some of the cheesy-ness of the film’s emotional components.
The characters in Chanbara Beauty are nothing new, but at least each of the three main protagonists is fully developed with back stories to make them seem less flat.
The main character in the film is Aya: a brooding twenty-something who has way too many powers and way too little clothing (yes, men, I can hear your cheers now). She spends her days moping and killing zombies, and probably says about 5 words through the entire duration of the movie. I have to say that Aya is possibly one of the least likeable protagonists I have ever come across in films from this genre. Her brooding nature is far too artificial, and it actually seems more like she can’t think of anything to say rather than her not choosing to say anything. With all that being said, her back story is fairly intriguing (although nothing explains why she’s such a moody person) and her relationship with her sister is not as contrived as I anticipated it to be.
Aya’s two companions were great though, and really made me warm to the film more. Reiko was a lovely character and really different from what I was expecting: she was portrayed quite well by Hashimoto and in my opinion she would have made a far better protagonist than Aya did. Reiko was the most developed character which I came across in the film, and it would have made far more sense to cast someone likeable (albeit, wearing more clothing than Aya) as the leading woman – she even said more words than Aya, which is a major flaw in the script-writing side of things. The sole male in the trio was also far more enjoyable and relatable than Aya. Katsumi is that silly, goofy guy who has good intentions but is a little bit of a coward. Waki’s acting didn’t feel at all like it was forced – a rare feat for low-budget zombie movies – and I’d have to say this guy was the shining star in the film: again, another missed opportunity for the writers to really go somewhere special with their script.
However, for every two good characters there are two terrible characters, and the bad guys were truly the dullest evil people I’ve ever seen. Doctor Sugita was the mad doctor with no real purpose to his resurrection of the dead. He had this weird glass eye (which was really just a white contact lens in one of his eyes), and his acting was just as transparent as his eye. Also, Saki truly was Aya’s little sister: she may have said 2 more words than Aya but other than that it felt she served no true purpose but to make Aya’s story more compelling to the audience.
Visual and Audio
Visually, the film had some aspects that were great and some that were absolutely disastrous. As I mentioned earlier, low-budget films generally have bad special effects, but the animation aspects in this were terrible. The gun shots looked like a beginner had been hired for the film just to keep costs down, and in the final fight so much had clearly been green-screened: there was even a moment when the two jumped in the ‘air’ and it was just a low angle shot of them with clouds in the background.
The make-up was far better than I expected though, which balances out the animation to some degree. The zombies looked genuinely creepy, and when they died blood spurted out of their mouth in a fairly convincing manner – even some of the severed heads looked remotely like real zombie heads! Their movement was also choreographed quite well, from twitching when they were resurrected to their lurching forward in an attempt to kill a human. The bright flashbacks to Aya and Katsumi’s past also did wonders for the visual composition of the film and acted as a great interjection to the grim dark tones which were present through the majority of the settings.
Unfortunately, the audio really wasn’t half as great as some of the visuals were. When the zombies came to life and their bones cracked, it sounded a bit like a kid banging two toys together. When swarms of zombies crept up on a place, there was a sound similar to that of someone blowing into the top of a bottle. The music used didn’t really fit the majority of key moments in the film – the music for the final fight was really an anticlimax –, and really it was a shame that the audio was such a let-down because great audio effects can still be created on a tight budget.
The DVD only comes with the theatrical trailer of the film, which I had watched on YouTube previously anyway. I do have to say that I don’t think I would have watched the extras even if they did come with the DVD, but it would have been a nice touch to have the original Oneebara Beauty to watch as a comparison.
Overall, Chanbara Beauty had its standout moments, its cookie-cutter moments, and its not-so-great moments. Despite all the aspects that I didn’t like, something still made me enjoy this film. Perhaps it was the two great characters, or the makeup and flashbacks…or perhaps I’ve just seen too many low-budget zombie films and they’re starting to grow on me. No matter what it is though, I have to say that Chanbara Beauty is probably one of the more enjoyable low-budget films out there.
I give Chanbara Beauty