Was something in the air last year? 2008 saw the release of several horror movies where bikini girls battled zombies, including the eponymous Zombie Strippers and the slapdash Zombies, Zombies, Zombies. Add to that list Chanbara Beauty, a feisty Japanese effort that bests both with its Asian fusion of splatter, samurai swordplay and sex appeal.
A genetically-engineered zombie virus is sweeping Japan. Surprisingly epic shots - given the low-budget genre - show Tokyo cityscapes and vast swathes of countryside where shambling flesh-eaters are shot by kill-crazy vigilantes. Their bullets bounce off a lone, hooded super-zombie who promptly ravages survivors with devastating kung fu. Leaping to their rescue comes enigmatic Aya (babelicious Eri Otoguro), clad, rather like Raquel Welch in Hannie Caulder (1971), in a fetching cowboy hat, poncho, and knee-length boots. Unlike Raquel, Aya often whips off her poncho to reveal a slinky red bikini and, wielding a laser-blasting samurai sword at lightning speed, splatters zombies everywhere. God bless Japanese exploitation!
Gun-toting biker chick Reiko (Manami Hashimoto) joins the fray, searching for deranged zombie creator Dr. Sugita (Taro Suwa), while Aya is also seeking her long-lost sister Saki (Chise Nakamura). It transpires that Saki slew their parents and reborn as a sexy, mini-skirted, samurai schoolgirl, now serves as Dr. Sugita’s protector.
Chanbara Beauty’s videogame plot betrays its origins as a series of RPGs created by Tamsoft and D3, name-checked here as the villainous progenitors of the zombie virus. Yet woven into the turbo-charged action, limb-ripping undead atrocities and admiration of nubile lovelies, is a surprising amount of philosophising about moral choices and some affecting drama. It draws upon typical chanbara (samurai movie) themes of revenge, comradeship, and the nobility of self-sacrifice and unlike so many low-budget zombie movies, calls on its heroes to display humanity and compassion. Bereaved single mother Reiko adopts a stray orphan as her surrogate daughter, whom she refuses to kill when she is zombified. Portly comic relief Katsuji is attacked by a zombie version of Go-Go Yubari from Kill Bill (2003), whom he poignantly recognises as the sister he failed to protect. The plot itself plays out as a series of traumatic events designed to draw out icy Aya’s latent humanity and concludes with a life-affirming smile.
First and foremost this is a glossy exploitation movie about scantily-clad super-babes fighting freaky flesh-eaters, and on that front delivers in spades. Counterbalancing their use as lush eye-candy, the film succeeds in making three popular, Japanese pinup girls into credibly athletic action heroines, while hyperkinetic camerawork gives the samurai fights real punch. Sparks fly from clanging swords and Amazonian heroines fly through the air. An ill-defined plot twist flounders as it reveals the “cursed blood of the Imichi clan” (namely Aya and Saki) is of vital importance to the zombie experiment - whatever that may be. Nonetheless it precipitates a leap into the outer limits of anime influenced insanity. Zombies are swept aside as sexy samurai girls glow with red and blue elemental energy, hurl fireballs or fling tornados with magic swords. Sexy, action packed and oodles more fun than those po-faced Resident Evil movies.