Chanbara Striptease

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“If you ever wanted to see topless swordfighting, you’ll be in heaven.”

Lili is a devotee of Sayama Hashinryu, a deadly form of swordsmanship passed down from woman to woman. She goes through the initiation rite, which involves being blindfolded and given a drink which knocks her unconscious. She comes to, about three hundred years in the past, in feudal Japan, naked. When she gathers her senses, she rescues a local village-girl from some ninjas, but to cut a long story short, discovers in the process that when Lili exposes her breasts, they emit a pinkish glow, and she becomes far better at swordplay. Turns out the poor villagers are suffering extortion from the evil Lady Okini (Asa), so Lili turns into the Magnificent One [or Magnificent Two, if you know what I mean, and I think you do], while also falling for Hikoichi (Matsuda), the brother of the girl she rescued. However, it turns out that Lili is not the only one in possession of a supernatural bosom; Lady Okini is also so equipped. Battle cleavages are thus drawn…

It says something about this film that I am still not sure who actually plays the heroine in it. The DVD has no credits to speak of – though Manga Video did bother to translate the closing song lyric – and the IMDB doesn’t list anyone playing Lili. So, if it’s not Akanishi – and I think it may not be, from what I can tell on a quick Google Image search – then I’ve no idea [Hooray! Reader A.R. comes through, confirming it is Ruru Anoa who plays Lili]. Anyway, it’s every bit as silly as it sounds, and made all the more palatable by being played dead-serious by all concerned. Despite the copious nudity, it’s mostly very innocent, though there are a couple of sex scenes which do bring the film to a bit of a halt – the lead actress isn’t even all that pretty, in my opinion, though Asa has a nice “bad girl” thing going.

The action is fairly basic, but edited in a decent way, hiding the limited skills of those taking part, and it barely runs an hour – likely a good thing, as one suspects much more of this could be outstaying its welcome. Incidentally, “Chanbara” basically means “sword-fighting movie”; the original title translates as “Breast Chanbara,” which is certainly closer to the truth than the Manga title, as the film contains no striptease whatsoever. The same creators had previously done two Chanbara Beauty films, about a bikini-clad zombie-killer, based on a video-game; I think I’ll be fast-tracking those for future consumption, and may even be able to watch them with Chris!

Dir: Akira Hirose
Star: Ryo Akanishi, Ruru Anoa, Yôichi Matsuda, Mina Asa, Sasa Handa

Sucker Punch trailer

Zack Snyder is certainly among the most creative of directors, whose work we have enjoyed since we first saw it in the Dawn of the Dead remake. He followed that up with 300 and Watchmen, carving a niche for himself with incredibly-stylish (and stylized) action films. Now, he’s working on a Girls With Guns movie, Sucker Punch, which he has described as “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns.” Set in the 1950’s, it’s about a young girl (Emily Browning) and her female friends, who need to escape a lunatic asylum before they are lobotomized. Here’s the trailer (that it uses Lords of Acid as the music is simply a bonus); it’s due out in March.

Run! Bitch Run!

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“Grindhouse par excellence. Not convinced this is entirely a good thing, however.”

I can certainly appreciate where the makers are trying to go with this one. Two Catholic schoolgirls, selling Bible door-to-door to raise funds for their educational establishment. Unfortunately, they knock on the wrong door: this is actually a whorehouse, run by the psychotic Lobo (Tahoe), who has just killed one of his hookers. The two are kidnapped: one is killed, while the other (Lyone) is left for dead, naked, in the nearby woods. She is taken to hospital, but has only a single thought in her head: revenge. Stealing a nurse’s uniform, she checks out, intent on taking our her wrath on Lobo and his no-less depraved sidekicks.

Particularly if you’ve seen the (thoroughly NSFW) trailer, you’ll know where this is heading, and it’s not a pleasant place. While entirely successful at evoking the grindhouse atmosphere, with its mix of sleazy, ugly sex and grimy violence, it also succeeds at being remarkably.. Well, boring is the word I’d use, and that’s close to an unforgivable sin as far as exploitation cinema goes. The pacing just seems off: it takes too long to get to what we actually want to see, which is these low-life scum getting their come-uppance. While the film does eventually deliver (Lobo’s fate will have you shifting uncomfortably), I must confess, my interest had waned well before that point.

The main problem, I think, is there is no emotional connection with the heroine. While there is an attempt to build her character early on, it’s not successful. A film like this largely stands or falls on its central performance; while Lyone is laudably game, she doesn’t have the acting chops to get the audience over on her side, and so the torments she undergoes have little or no impact, and neither does her revenge. The best grindhouse flicks achieve that connection on an almost visceral level, taking you to dark places you generally don’t want to go, and this only brushes against the edges there, making its flaws all that more obvious.

That said, I am still somewhat interested in seeing Guzman’s next work. Whatever his talents may lack elsewhere, the man has an undeniable eye for a title, and this one may even lack the grammatical issues found here. Coming soon: Nude Nuns with Big Guns.

Dir: Joseph Guzman
Star: Cheryl Lyone, Peter Tahoe, Ivet Corvea, Johnny Winscher

Alice in Wasteland

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“Washing-up proved marginally more interesting.”

Ok, that brief is a little harsh, but it is true to say by the end, I had opted to double-task, and was watching this while I stood over the sink in the kitchen. It wasn’t as good as I expected: I was hoping for something along the lines of Faster, Pussycat, and instead got a turgid, over-extended crime drama. While it has all the right aspirations, the yawning chasm between that and its execution would require several days’ trip by mule to cross. Alice Wynn (Sondrup) is part of an armored-truck robbery, only to find herself double-crossed and left for dead by corrupt cop Jill Robbe (Beisner). Alice vows to recover the loot and take revenge on Robbe, and won’t let anyone – examples include her late mother’s boyfriend, psychotic pimp Ramrod or his Swedish assassin – stand in her way.

It’s not as good as it sounds, with the low-budget impediments and a largely amateur cast providing almost permanent blocks to success. About the only thing it shares with Faster, Pussycat is a complete lack of actual nudity – and unlike that, this doesn’t make up for that shortcoming in charisma. There are some amusing moments, such as adverts for a non-dairy product called “Pusé Whip”, or a film called Kill Jill, yet most of the individual scenes seem to solve little purpose except to get you to the next one – they’re just not very interesting on their own.

I did quite enjoy the two leads, with both Sondrup and Beisner surpassing the minimum necessary “Oomph” for their roles – the final scene together is perhaps the best thing about the movie (save the Swedish assassin). However, I don’t come into films expecting “the minimum necessary,” and when the other aspects largely fall short of even that mark, I have to confess that disappointment, and a resulting decision to get on with some housework, were the result. I’m left with the feeling that some things are perhaps best left to the professionals.

Dir: Lasse Jarvi and Peter Schuermann
Star: Roxane Sondrup, Michelle Beisner, Major Mandolin, Adam Ryan Villareal