“Long live the new flesh.”
I’m on the fence with regard to the Japanese uber-gore films, most notably, by the Sushi Typhoon studio, which have achieved renown (or infamy) of late. While some (Mutant Girls Squad) are entertaining nonsense, others (Helldriver) are pretty tedious. So, the concept of lower-budget, exploitation-er versions of these, already low-budget exploitation flicks, is a mixed blessing. Enter Zen Pictures, and their formula, which appears to consist of costumed heroines who alternately fight and get tortured. The story here is split into two volumes, but with each barely an hour long and containing plenty of filler, probably better to consider them a single, feature-length entry.
I do like the central story, which is daft as a brush, yet executed with the right level of straight-faced intensity. In order to market his half-human, half-machine cyborgs to the military, Koumoto, chairman of the Dainippon company, comes up with a cunning plan: create a set of female athletes, who will smash all existing records. However, he has forgotten the Japanese Sports Association, under chief Gondo, who don’t take kindly to these performance-enhancing shenanigans. The solution? Naturally, build their own (eco-friendly!) cyborg to fight the Dainippon team. Except, due to an administrative cock-up, the original candidate, Megumi Asaoka (Taki), is accidentally replaced by Ai Asaoka (Noda). Initially, Ai is successful, but after being captured by Koumoto, she is reprogrammed, and her friend Megumi has to battle to rescue Ai.
The first volume is significantly better, though still has its weaknesses, not the least being more evidence that crappy CGI is far less endearing than crappy practical effects – and there’s enough of both to be seen here. However, it whizzes along with sufficient energy, and contains plenty of action, to merit forgiveness for the obvious poverty-row origins, and everyone involved chews scenery to amusing effect. After the break, unfortunately, things slow down, with a pair of lengthy torture sequences which had absolutely no value for me whatsoever, and the fights seemed, to a large extent, repeats of those from the first volume. Both parts also have another severe weakness – taking an idea and running with it, well past the point where it stops being interesting. Case in point: one of the battles includes the participants each releasing a cyborg arm, which then stage their own fight, independently. For 15 seconds, it’s kinda amusing. After a minute, it’s dull. But the film keeps going far beyond that, and there are plenty of similar cases; the surgery which turns Ai into a cyborg is also depicted at far greater length than necessary. Maybe this is some Japanese fetish thing, of which I was previously unaware.
This is definitely a case where less would have been more, and with a more enthusiastic hand on the editor’s knife, this could have become a decent eighty-minute feature – and possibly an even better 50-minute one. Kamikura does often demonstrate an awareness and acceptance of exactly how ludicrous the entire scenario is, and the film is at its best when wholeheartedly embracing its own insanity. For instance, each of the cyborg athletes’ talents is influenced by their sport: Hitomi Oka is a tennis-player, so whacks people with an over-sized, pneumatic racket, and lobs exploding tennis-balls at them. Additional helpings of that kind of imaginative lunacy – and considerably less tied-up schoolgirls being prodded or whipped – would certainly have made for a more entertaining end product.
Dir: Eiji Kamikura
Star: Ayaka Noda, Arisa Taki, Masahiro Saito, Shinya Nakamura