Over the past few weeks I've been playing the fanservice-filled hack n' slash zombie killing fest that is OneChanbara Z2: Chaos. So what better time to look at the (absolutely horrible) 2008 film OneChanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad?
If there is one good point to the OneChanbara film, it's that it is unmistakably “OneChanbara.” Like the first game, it follows Aya, a bikini-clad woman killing zombies as she hunts down the girl responsible for killing her father—her sister. More than that, it has several other characters you know looking and acting as they do in the game; and plot points like Aya's cursed blood remain key to the story. Of course, that's not to say there aren't some major changes.
While Aya is ostensibly the main character of the film, she more often than not feels like a supporting character. This is because, while present in the majority of scenes, she almost never speaks. Since dialogue is generally an important part of a film, she is given a sidekick in the form of Katsuji. His job is to talk constantly and give a never-ending stream of exposition. Of course, to dole out all the important plot information, he needs to have someone to talk to. Thus enters the character of Reiko, who plays the part of clueless audience proxy and asks all the questions the audience needs answered to know what is going on.
While Katsuji explains Aya's backstory and we see it in flashbacks, it is rarely of immediate concern until the film's climax. In the hour or so before that, we instead learn about Katsuji and Reiko's motivations and then watch as the two of them face conflicts directly related to their tragic backstories. Aya's job is simply to swing her sword when needed—usually to save the combat-inept Katsuji. So naturally, Katsuji and Reiko upstage Aya constantly, making her appear as nothing more than a sidekick in their two stories.
OneChanbara is a poorly directed action film to say the least. This is because it is in no way shot like an action film. Rather, it has been filmed and edited as if it were a slasher horror film—and given the fact that Yohei Fukuda is primarily a horror director, this isn't that much of a surprise.
What this means is that all the action scenes in this film are plagued by quick cuts interspersed with random close-ups and a ton of shaky cam. Moreover, the majority of the film's action scenes take place at night in poorly lit locations. In a horror film, these techniques would serve to obscure the monster or imply that the violence on screen is frantic and brutal. However, in an action film all this serves to do is make the fight scenes confusing to the point of being unwatchable.
Outside of the fight scenes, Yohei Fukuda heavily relies on filming on dutch angles—i.e., filming with the camera tilted at an odd angle. The point of dutch angles is that they serve to slightly unnerve the audience by making the scene seem a bit off in a subtle way. In a horror film, this is a great technique to use—if used sparingly and at the correct moments. But its constant use in an action movie causes the film to be annoying and more than a bit disorienting.
Simply put, OneChanbara has effects on par with a cheap episode of Power Rangers—if that. Practical effects are generally relegated to zombie makeup only, with everything from sword slashes and gunshots to blood and wounds being done entirely in terrible CG. Honestly, the vast majority of CG effects in this film (except for the climatic battle at the end) are effects anyone with a copy of After Effects could pull off.
My “favorite” prop is Reiko's double-barreled sawed-off shotgun which has infinite ammo, produces no kick, and seems to fire normal bullets instead of shotgun shells—which result in a bright generic gunshot flash.
Moreover, it's odd how many of the scenes don't really need the CG—instead of adding to the realism of a scene, they distract from it. In other words, to call the effects atrocious is a charity.
So, there is no doubt OneChanbara is a terrible movie. It is poorly directed and badly written—and that's on top of being an adaptation of a B-movie-style game plot to begin with. However, it is one of those movies that is so inept that it loops back around to being enjoyable again—enjoyable to make fun of anyway. This is a film just begging for the MST3K treatment of riffing. I would never suggest watching this film alone or in a serious state of mind, but if you have a group of friends who would be willing to join you in tearing apart the film, you'll probably have a lot of fun with this one.
OneChanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad is currently available on DVD in the US.
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