Danger Dolls (Japan 2014)

Rating: **
Review Date: 3/24/20
Cast: Rumi Hanai, Rina Takeda, Kayano Masuyama, Nana Seino

In an alternate universe, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are celebrated as the heroes of peace, and have eliminated all guns on the planet. However, that doesn't deter crime and violence. It just means that people arm themselves with swords and knives instead. Unfortunately, that semi-peaceful balance is about to be upset by a group of radioactive invaders (presumably from our universe) who show up and try to take over by introducing nuclear power plants and atomic weapons. The only ones who can identify and stop the invaders are a group of four young samurai girls who possess remarkable strength and skill. They are Arisa (Rumi Hanai), Rei (Rina Takeda), Miki (Kayano Masuyama), and Mari (Nana Seino). Their boss/handler/mentor decides that the most inconspicuous way for them to travel is if they dress up and pretend to be a Japanese idol group. The irony here is that their counterparts in the other universe actually are an idol group. Things get more complicated and dire when they finally uncover the wormhole that bridges both dimensions, and the other side sends a seemingly endless army of bad guys through it before the girls can shut it down.

It's definitely a low budget affair, and despite the absurd premise, it's handled with deadly seriousness and the drama becomes quite grim towards the end. The girls are cute and the acting is serviceable, although Rumi Hanai lacks charisma and comes across as emotionally flat. The production values are fair and the visual effects are average at best, but the music score is surprisingly good. The action choreography is good, but the camera work is sloppy, the execution tends to be soft and loose, and the hits aren't particularly convincing. The complete lack of blood also undermines the sword fights by giving them a feeling of play-acting. The girls do nearly all of their own stunts, and that's where karate champion Rina Takeda ("High Kick Girl" (2009) ) shines the brightest. Nana Seino ("Nowhere Girl" (2015) ) performs some nice grappling and sword work, while cute Kayano Masuyama gets in some impressive wrestling moves, and Rumi Hanai shows off her gymnastic abilities.

The pacing is pretty slow and the story is almost completely incomprehensible, but I was never bored. However, Japanese cinema is definitely an acquired taste, and those not accustomed to this style of filmmaking will likely not enjoy it at all. Fans of Rina Takeda might want to check it out, as it's considerably better than her lesser works, like "Kunoichi" (2011) and "Dragon Black" (2015).