Onechanbara: The Movie (Japan 2008)

Rating: *(*)
Alternate Titles: Chambara Beauty (International), Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (USA)
Review Date: 11/9/08
Cast: Eri Otoguro, Chise Nakamura, Manami Hashimoto

It's bad enough when filmmakers make bad movies based on good video games, but what about movies based on bad video games? "Onechanbara" started as a low budget action game from prolific publisher D3, but its popularity resulted in at least four sequels to date, and now a feature film. Much like the games, the premise is awesome, but the execution is severely lacking. The plot concerns a blood feud between two rival sisters, Aya (Eri Otoguro) and Saki (Chise Nakamura), who happen to be masters of the sword and extremely proficient at dispatching zombies. Why the streets are littered with zombies in the first place is anyone's guess. The movie opens with Aya and her ridiculous sidekick on a mission to find Saki in order to avenge her father's death. Endless waves of zombies (and zombie cyborgs?) obstruct their path, but they're fortunate to team up with a gun-toting female zombie slayer named Reiko (Manami Hashimoto) along the way. When the sisters finally meet face to face and sword to sword, their bloody and bittersweet reunion ends with the expected "father never loved me" monologue.

At its best, "Onechanbara" is a guilty pleasure. I certainly can't recommend it for anything beyond that. It's low budget and marred by poor production values and terrible special effects. The only thing it has going for it is three cute young girls blowing away zombies and kicking each other's asses. The female leads are all quite charming and handle their roles with flair and deadly seriousness. They're completely blank and emotionless, which gives a favorable impression of battle hardened intensity. Aya wears her trademark zombie slaying outfit consisting of a red bikini, feather boa, and cowboy hat. Her choice in clothing makes as much sense as anything else does in the movie. On the other hand, Saki prefers to deal death in a cute little schoolgirl uniform, clearly identifying the target demographic. For whatever reasons, Aya is teamed up with a goofy male partner who seems to only exist for comedic relief - and perhaps to inject a small amount of testosterone into the female dominated cast. He is useless and sorely out of place, and should have been left out of the script.

The film suffers most from its overuse of tacky visual effects, which ironically make it seem more like a video game than a movie. Digital blood is used excessively, and while it makes for some nice impact splatters, its lack of persistence ruins the intended effect. As a result, the combat sequences are overly clean and sterile since neither the zombies or the zombie slayers ever get any blood on them (even though it's being sprayed and splattered all over the place in post). The blades also remain perfectly clean throughout the entire movie, which is a constant distraction and visual discontinuity. Another annoyance is Reiko's rapid fire, infinite ammo shotgun that never needs reloading. The actual sword fighting is pretty good given the budget constraints of the film, and the girls take it very seriously. Undercranking and creative editing keep the pace lively and make it appear that the girls are really laying into each other. The copy of the film I saw wasn't translated, but I can't imagine the dialog adding anything significant to the proceedings. If you have a sweet-tooth for female action cinema and a high tolerance for bad low budget filmmaking, "Onechanbara" offers about 2-3 minutes of worthwhile entertainment. Otherwise, it's a complete waste of time.