Chanbara Beauty (2008)
By: Stuart Giesel on February 13, 2013 | Comments
Eastern Eye | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Japanese DD 5.1 | 82 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Y˘hei Fukuda
Starring: Eri Otoguro, Tomohiro Waki, Manami Hashimoto, Tar˘ Suwa, Chise Nakamura
Screenplay: Y˘hei Fukuda, Yasutoshi Murakawa
Country: Japan
External Links
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This insipid movie starts with an eye-rolling scene-setter: "A.D. 20XX - When D3 Corporation began resurrecting the dead, all over the world the living dead started attacking people. These people became zombies, who in turn attacked others. Desperate people would kill their own families for survival. Madness has swallowed up the whole world."

20XX? What the hell? Couldn't even come up with a proper year? Anyway, the story is that Aya (Eri Otoguro) is some sort of magical assassin who, along with blonde Japanese Chris Farley lookalike Katsuji (Tomohiro Waki) is looking for her sister Saki (Chise Nakamura) in zombie-infested somewhere-or-other. Saki, as it turns out, killed their father. Gun-wielding Reiko (Manami Hashimoto) is looking for the megalomaniacal Dr Sugita (Taro Suwa) who works for the D3 Corporation and apparently caused the zombie outbreak. She wants to kill the doctor because he got her daughter killed. Conveniently, Saki is with Dr Sugita, so our three heroes combine forces. They meet a few people along the way and some other stuff happens, blah-de-blah. We have bits ripped-off from various zombie movies - Western and Japanese alike - as well as other flicks like The Terminator and Kill Bill. The whole premise of sister against sister is an interesting one, but like every other aspect of this movie the interesting bits are soon jettisoned in favour of inept fight scenes and effects from CGI boot camp. They could have developed the sister rivalry, or at least explained it a little better, but no, that would have taken a bit of effort on behalf of co-writer/director Yohei Fukuda.

Apparently this is based on a video game series called OneeChanbara, but I could give a shit. Like the Resident Evil movies, I could care less whether they're reverential to the source material or not - if it's a quality product, then ultimately that's what matters, and the movie should be good enough to stand alone as a piece of entertainment and not require you to play eleven games in the series and read a bunch of web comics to familiarise yourself with the universe. Surely everyone has to admit that the bar is set pretty low for game-to-movie conversions, but this takes the cake. I would certainly hope that the OneeChanbara series of games are more fun than enduring this cliched, uninspired movie adaptation. If nothing else you'd surely get to fire a few more neurons by virtue of the simple act of thumbing a controller in order to manipulate some pixels on a computer screen rather than sitting slumped in a chair gawking listlessly at these inane happenings on a TV.

Whilst this low budget zombie shlock film has a couple of things in its favour, it suffers from what plagues a lot of cheap Japanese horror exports these days: lame CGI gore, sub-par Matrix-style action, characters you don't care about and certainly don't give a damn whether they live or not, murky lighting and action scenes shot by someone either with Parkinson's disease or ADD or both. The characters are so thinly drawn as to be almost nonexistent; what character development there is consists of mostly sketchily-drawn backstory. The chubby sidekick acts all surprised or grossed-out by the zombie carnage he comes across as if it's for the very first time, even though he's supposedly endured these sort of horrors for ages. And what is it with main characters suddenly caring about people they've met for all of two minutes? Halfway through the film they meet a simple-minded girl - the kiss of death for these sorts of films! - and Reiko gets ultra-protective of her for some reason, even when it's to her detriment and the girl is about to turn into a flesh-eating zombie and wants to kill her. Christ! You'd think people surviving in a zombie holocaust would develop a more acute sense of survival. It's like how Aya wears a skimpy bikini outfit when she goes into battle - you'd think she would be more conscious of being bitten. And yep, it's lazy screenwriting all the way, from a massive horde of zombies who are able to keep deathly quiet when it's convenient to the scene, to Aya being able to move like lightning at the start of the movie but then hardly ever bothering to do that again even when she really needs to, to zombies that decide to hesitate before making a killer blow on one of our heroes because...just because. And then Aya's sword suddenly gets all fiery and she can make fireballs for some reason. I assume it's an aspect taken from the game. Well fuck you if you can't explain it for the rest of us. And don't bother using your amazing powers in the final fight scene until the very last moment, idiot.

The CGI is insultingly atrocious, worse than anything seen in Helldriver. Christ, at least Helldriver had some imagination. Here, CGI blood splatters the screen, but it's the sort of effect you might have seen in a generic first person shooter from the early 90's when the effect was new and surprising. Here, it's used in every other shot and quickly becomes tiresome. Even though blood flies everywhere, it never touches the ground or the walls, because that would mean the designers having to create some extra CGI layers for the backdrops or, I don't know, have the set decorators actually use movie blood. I miss the days of Lone Wolf and Cub.  You have bullet effects look lamer than what a twelve-year old could conjure out of Adobe After Effects with no prior training - what the hell happened to the art of squib-making? Sparks, blood and body parts fly, all to no avail, because you're as invested in the action as you might be watching a piece of cheese dry out in the sun. This is a huge shame, because the actual practical and prosthetic effects, when used, prove to be quite decent.

Oh, and just to add insult to injury for even the most easy-to-please fans of zombie films, not one zombie can get the "zombie walk" right. All the zombie actors look like they're constipated and have had their spines superglued straight before being jolted with cattleprods - that is, when they're not trying out for the Olympics 100m dash like a certain zombie nurse.

I could go on but why bother. I have no problem with amateur filmmaking when there's a shred of actual talent in front of and behind the lens. But then you get cases like this, where it's a cheap, cynical moviemaking which was probably intended as a tax write-off at worst or a shameless ploy to rip off fans of the games at best. Take a talent like Takashi Miike who can churn out a half-dozen movies every year on shoe-string budgets - any one of his films possesses more creativity, ingenuity and entertainment in any ten minutes than the entirety of Chanbara Beauty. This film isn't even terrible enough to join the "so bad it's good" league. The only way you could possibly be impressed by Chanbara Beauty is if you've never seen another zombie or Japanese action/horror film before or, hell, ANY film before. Recommended only to the most undemanding movie fan who absolutely must watch every Japanese movie ever made for the purposes of completeness.

As I wrap up this review, I pause to consider whether I've been too harsh on Chanbara Beauty. Perhaps I was in a grumpy old man mood when I watched it. Surely I should cut the filmmakers some slack considering what limited resources they probably had to work with? And then I recall the final fight scene which descends into the lamest, most headache-inducing CGI mess since The Lawnmower Man, and I think, "no, fuck you".
The Disc

As befitting a film of low quality, the picture and audio is lacklustre; picture quality is ugly and washed-out, and the sound lacks any sort of depth or immersiveness, coming across as completely flat in either its 5.1 or 2.0 incarnation (both Japanese audio only with optional English subtitles), with the 5.1 track scarcely making use of surround speakers. The disc lacks any features apart from a trailer for Chanbara Beauty itself and other Eastern Eye releases, presumably due to a lack of interest on the part of everyone involved.

The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Remember when zombie/undead movies weren't shit? Romero's Night/Dawn/Day trilogy, the Evil Dead series, Dellamorte Dellamore, Zombie, Re-Animator, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue? How times have changed. Chanbara Beauty makes hokey zombie stuff like Nightmare City and Junk look like masterpieces. I assume the OneeChanbara games are nowhere near this hollow, generic, unappealing or soul-shattering. It commits the cardinal sin of a horror/action/wannabe-cult movie by being dull. The movie gets a rating of 1.5 from me, and that's purely based on an objective appraisal of the attractiveness of the three main female leads, 0.5 for each of them.

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