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Oppai Chanbara (2008)
A mediocre, though somewhat entertaining, video game spoof... with boobs.
First off, let's dash a few hopes: the English title for Oppai Chanbara: Striptease Samurai Squad is a bit misleading. If you envisioned a band of roving topless samurai laying waste to their enemies, you will be sorely disappointed. In fact, there are only two striptease samurai in the film – not much of a squad, really.
Oppai Chanbara is a spoof of the popular (in Japan, at least) video game series Onechanbara. However, familiarity with Onechanbara is not required to understand or enjoy Oppai Chanbara. In fact, all that's really needed to get the most from this film is a few beers and relatively low expectations. Akira Hirose directs this low-budget action-comedy, featuring AV stars Ryo Akanishi (Injured Dolls, Sexual Nurse Clinic 3) and Ruru Anao (Super Tits Body Special, Bako Bako Orgy), which somehow manages to be not quite as bad as one would expect. Oppai Chanbara has a certain sleazy charm that manages to make it almost appealing.
It's her 20th birthday and Lili (Akanishi) is about to inherit the Sayama Hashin-ryu sword style. What is the Sayama Hashin-ryu sword style, you ask? Well, as the film makes clear on several occasions, Sayama Hashin-ryu is, at its core, a sword style used to kill people (ahem) with your boobs. Well, that's not exactly right. Lili doesn't actually kill people with her boobs. They serve as more of a distraction technique than anything else probably because they glow. Yep, you read that correctly, her boobs glow.
During her initiation ceremony, Lili's grandmother gives her a mysterious box, warning her to open it only when faced with a true predicament. After drinking some rather questionable green tea, she is transported back to the era of ronin, ninjas, and uncomfortable male underpants where she finds herself alone in a forest, buck naked with only the box for company. She soon encounters the very pregnant Yae (Mina Asa), fleeing the clutches of the evil Yamishika gang. Judging herself to be in a true predicament, Lili opens the box and before our very eyes a striptease samurai is born! An epic battle of boobs vs. ninjas ensues, during which Lili experiences her first kill, leading to deep personal introspection which culminates in her revelation that Sayama Hashin-ryu is indeed, at its core, a sword style used to kill people.
The Yamishika gang flees and Lili is escorted to Iida village by Yae and her brother Hikoichi (Shouichi Matsuda). Hikoichi loans Lili his prized polka-dot handkerchief, sparking a love interest that is later solidified when he proves himself a talented musician by playing a heartrending composition on what I can only assume was a blade of grass. Needless to say, the Yamishika gang aren't about to go out like a bunch of punk-bitches. They soon return to Iida village with their leader, the ninja queen Lady Kinu (Anao) in tow, swearing to murder a villager every day until their extortion demands are met. More boob-based combat ensues and Lili vows to save Iida village from Lady Kinu and her gang.
Oppai Chanbara is certainly nothing to write home about, but might appeal to fans of low-budget Japanese ninja-chick flicks and softcore AV addicts. The acting is about what you would expect from a couple of AV stars and a bunch of nobodies (my apologies, Mr. Matsuda). The fight choreography is decent and there are a few genuinely funny moments. Also, I never really got tired of admiring Ryo Akanishi's... um, swordplay. Gorehounds take note: despite all the swords and shurikens, there's very little blood, and no gore, to speak of. I guess Hirose spent most of his special-effects budget on boob-lights, but I can't really hold that against him.
A gore-soaked near-masterpiece of J-splatter cinema.
Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl is the blood-soaked adaptation of a popular manga. Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Helldriver) helms this masterpiece of Japanese new-wave ultra-violent splatter, a genre most notable for its juxtaposition of cute actresses and extreme violence. In typical Nishimura fashion, the insanity meter is cranked up to 11. Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl stars gravure idol (and full-time goddess) Yukie Kawamura and Eri Otoguro (Onechanbara: the Movie) in the respective title roles as they battle for the affection of their classmate Jugon (Takumi Saito). It also features a great cameo by the queen of Japanese horror, Eihi Shiina (Audition, Tokyo Gore Police).
When Monami (Kawamura), our Vampire Girl, transfers to a new high school in Tokyo, she soon attracts the ire of the resident lolligirl clique, and their bratty leader Keiko (Otoguro), by giving Jyugon a blood-filled chocolate for Valentine's Day. It isn't long before the school nurse becomes aware that something isn't quite right with a sample of Monami's blood and passes it along to Keiko's father, who also happens to be the vice-principal and a (very!) mad scientist, the self-proclaimed successor to Dr. Frankenstein. Upon confronting Monami, Keiko ends up dead and (you guessed it) is rebuilt by her father as Frankenstein Girl and an epic battle ensues that is truly mind-blowing in both its violence and its creativity.
Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl boasts the traditional gore effects for which Nishimura is best known: gallons of blood-spray, uncomfortable wrist-cutting scenes, and disturbingly distorted human bodies. It also contains a lot of fairly well-executed CGI that doesn't really detract from overall immersion in the film.Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl never takes itself too seriously and it's in this frame of mind that the film is best enjoyed. It incorporates comedic elements, including the catchy J-Pop soundtrack, and a healthy dose of social satire which anyone familiar with Japanese pop-culture is sure to enjoy. There are several memorable scenes, my personal favorite being when Monami dances in a rain of blood as it sprays from the neck of a recent victim, a scene which, in my mind, captures the essence of what this genre is all about.
In fairness, Nishimura's films, and pink violence in general, is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. If you are a fan of other films in the genre, such as Machine Girl, Meatball Machine, and Tokyo Gore Police, you will love this film. If you are a gorehound with a penchant for old-school special effects and horror-comedies like Re-Animator, Dead Alive and Evil Dead 2, you will love this film. If, however, you happen to be a close-minded film elitist who insists on little things like continuity, realism, and unquestionable plot structures, you will probably spontaneously combust within the first five minutes (probably around the time that Monami rips the skin from the face of a Gothic-lolita zombie with her teeth, exposing an animated skull).
When it's all said and done, Nishimura provides us with a fresh and exciting take on these two iconic, but worn-out and often predictable, monster stereotypes. The true beauty of films like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl lies in their unpredictability and refusal to be constrained within the existent boundaries of film logic, physics, or even political correctness. Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl epitomizes what this genre is all about and, while not quite as good as Tokyo Gore Police (but, then again, what is?), it is definitely one hell of a awesome movie.
Yôkai daisensô (2005)
A decent fantasy film, but not a great Miike film.
What happens when director Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer) tackles a children's fantasy film? Unfortunately, the end result is not as awesome as one might expect. The Great Yokai War is a reinterpretation of the Japanese monster classic Spook Warfare (1968) and, like its predecessor, features a host of creepy, and sometimes just plain goofy (I'm looking at you, umbrella monster), creatures from Japanese folklore. Ryunosuke Kamiki stars as the young hero Tadashi who squares off against the evil Lord Kato (Etsushi Toyokawa) and his twisted, but incredibly hot, henchwoman Agi, played by Chiaki Kuriyama (EXTE, Kill Bill: Vol. 1).
Tadashi, the son of recent divorcées, moves from Tokyo to a seaside village to live with his mother and grandfather. In typical children's fantasy fashion, Tadashi lacks confidence. He finds it difficult to adapt to his new life and his heavy-drinking mother and dementia-suffering grandfather don't make it any easier. Everything changes when Tadashi is chosen by the Yokai to be the Kirin Rider, protector of all things good, at a local festival. He discovers that, as the Kirin Rider, he is destined to obtain the magic sword, Daitenguken, from the Great Tengu and protect the Yokai from the advances of Lord Kato and Agi.
Meanwhile, we discover that Lord Kato has summoned Yomotsumono, a massive factory-like Yokai born from all the things that humans throw away. Lord Kato and Agi have also imprisoned several Yokai, including Tadashi's friend Sunekosuri, a cute hamster-like thing with a penchant for humping shins, and developed a method of absorbing their powers and, in the process, transforming them into rage-driven mechanized guardians. Accompanied by a small group of companions, Tadashi undertakes the quest to defeat Lord Kato and rescue Sunekosuri (and Tokyo) before it's too late.
Although this sounds like a great premise for a children's film, in Japan at least, The Great Yokai War never quite reaches its full potential. I expected a bit more experimentation from Miike, especially given the weirdness of the source material. That's not to say that there aren't some great moments: an early scene in which a dying newborn Yokai warns a frightened witness of the coming war is both visually striking and establishes the rather dark nature of the film. Unfortunately, this destined war never quite materializes and, by the end of the film, things just start to seem goofy.
Thematically, Miike tackles the human potential to discard things without a second thought and the detachment from the realm of nature and imagination that inevitably occurs as we grow older. All in all, this is a message that is more likely to resonate with adult viewers than with children, upon whom a lot of the underlying thematic subtleties of the film are probably lost. Adult viewers will find themselves wishing that Miike had explored this rather depressing subject matter as an adult fairytale, something more along the lines of Guillermo Del Toro's excellent Pan's Labyrinth, than within the constraints of a children's fantasy film.
As it stands, The Great Yokai War has its moments and does boast great special effects and a horde of unique and interesting monsters. Unfortunately, it never quite succeeds as either a children's fantasy film or a Miike film. It never really establishes a sense of epicness in regard to Tadashi's quest, an element that is of utmost importance in this type of film. However, genre-wise it is much more akin to the mildly disturbing children's fantasy films of the '80s, like The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, and Return to Oz, than to other Miike works, like Audition, Visitor Q, and Ichi the Killer. Fans of the former will probably find a lot to like in The Great Yokai War, while fans of the latter will more than likely be a little disappointed.
Gore Police (dreadfulreviews.com)
They're eating her! They're eating her SKULL!
Sometimes a film comes along and changes your life forever. Sometimes a film makes you question everything you believe in, everything you thought you knew. Sometimes a film beats you down and leaves you broken, whimpering in a corner, nothing but an empty shell of your former self. Sometimes a film waxes so philosophical that your comprehension falters and all that remains is series of abstract and confusing images, their true meaning just beyond the means of your feeble intellect. Sometimes a film is just so ridiculously awesome that it blows your frigging mind. THINGS is one of those films.
In 1989, most of the world remained blissfully unaware of the cinematic monstrosity that Andrew Jordan and Barry J. Gillis had unleashed via the then-thriving direct-to-video market. The fact that this film got made is in itself quite amazing, the fact that it got released borders on the miraculous. Apparently, Jordan and Gillis were somehow able to convince Intervision that THINGS cost a whopping $350,000 to make, when the actual budget was more like $35,000. Honestly, that number still seems quite a stretch, unless beer and cheese are obscenely expensive in Canada.
THINGS was filmed on Super 8. It's grainy, out of focus, badly lighted, badly acted, and just plain hard to watch. The original sound for the entire film was ruined, which led to one of the most hilariously bad and out-of-sync re-dubs in film history. There are long awkward silences, unbearable static and distortion, and, to make matters worse, Jordan and Gillis are obviously making most of the film's sound effects by mouth. The final result defies words, elevating what would have just been another bad and forgettable movie into a definitive cult classic.
As for the story, or lack thereof, THINGS weaves the twisted tale of Doug Drake (Doug Bunston) and his wife Susan (Patricia Sadler). Unable to conceive a child, the couple turns to the evil Dr. Lucas (Jan W. Pachul), who artificially inseminates Susan. As expected, it all turns out rather badly and Susan gives birth to a bunch of well, things. Fear not, however, Doug's brother Don (Barry J. Gillis) and his wisecracking sidekick Fred (Bruce Roach) are on the scene, ready to drink beer, eat cheese sandwiches, and battle the ant-like things with chainsaws, flashlights, and good old old-fashioned common sense.
Don't get too excited though, THINGS doesn't play out like you would expect. Instead it just kind of drags along as if woefully determined to test the limits of your comprehension and frustration. The action scenes are separated by long boring conversations, extended shots of flashlight beams on ceilings, and awkward TV news segments featuring porn star Amber Lynn, who presumably had neither the time nor the inclination to memorize her lines. Other highlights include Don and Fred finding a tape recorder (Evil Dead 2 anyone?) in Doug's freezer, one of the worst riddles I have ever heard, a ridiculous dream sequence, the horribly awesome soundtrack, and Don's epic sci-fi soliloquy.
When all is said and done, you need to see THINGS. Consider it an initiation ritual into the cult of bad movies. Rest assured, your first viewing will be hard to finish, but stick with it. Upon completing it your curiosity will draw you back time and time again. As bad as it is, something about THINGS just works, making subsequent viewings ever more enjoyable. It accidentally achieves a perfect combination of violence, charm, weirdness, and unintended hilarity. Buy it now, stock up on beer and cheese sandwiches, and force all your friends to watch it. You'll be glad you did.
Final verdict: 9/10