Sunday, 8 August 2010

DVD Release: Samurai Zombie **

Film: Samurai Zombie
Release Date: 19th July 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 86 mins
Director: Tak Sakaguchi
Starring: Mitsura Fukikoshi, Issei Ishida, Tak Sakaguchi, Airi Nakajima, Shintaro Matsubara
Genre: Horror/Action
Studio: MVM
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

George Santayana, the Spanish-American philosopher, once famously said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Tak Sakaguchi, martial artist, stuntman, actor and now director, has a high standing for taking every opportunity as it comes. Samurai Zombie, his second film as director, shares the same aphorism as Santayana’s, so why, considering his rapid rise to success, did he deliberately choose an angry reanimated corpse with military nobility as his next step?

A happy family take a trip to the country when their vehicle is apprehended by a pair of bank-robbers intent on escape. Having already seen the criminals dispatch a stranger in front of them with merciless precision, they concede defeat and are lead to an abandoned village, picketed by a defunct samurai who hasn’t lost his talent for killing.

When the father is brutally murdered, the remaining family must join forces with the convicts, overcoming their differences if they are to defeat the zombie and ultimately win through…

Samurai Zombie is a splatter film with more in the way of plot than it has in blood, guts and bloodshed. Sadly, this isn’t a compliment, because it also lacks the former too. Buoyed by an impressive performance by the young child actor playing Ryota, Samurai Zombie offers little in gore, action or originality. Opening with a bizarre and rather pointless scene in which a man talks to the camera about fate and how the audience will soon know what his is (he gets decapitated), Samurai Zombie is plagued by annoying characters that aren’t given the punishment they rightfully deserve (the guy obsessed with his own demise the only exception).

With all of its horrific, albeit briefly entertaining, activity suffocated by bloated and almost redundant scenes, the film feels like a pretty standard splatter movie for much of its running time with very little to say. Considering the team behind it delivered Versus, whilst providing valuable contributions to movies such as Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl, you would expect a lot more, and that’s possibly the biggest criticism. Despite it only being Tak Sakaguchi’s second feature, it still feels like a step back in his career. Yes, a samurai zombie is a very good idea, but after watching the superior Norwegian splatter-fest Dead Snow, involving Nazi zombies, this effort seems rather tame and a missed opportunity.

To be fair, the first act offers an interesting opening. Empathy for the main family is quick in coming; a car journey in which the conversation questions fate and how the mother and father met, with its obvious and delightful consequences (the children), is executed to encourage a pleasant liking for all those sat in the car. Then the tyre explodes.

The vicious thugs that attack them for no reason, taking them hostage, are also welcoming, and the journey onwards to Eight Spears Village in order to swap vehicles adds intrigue and conflict (the male convict’s, played by Sakaguchi, interest in the young daughter a seedy highlight). Sadly, then it all goes terribly wrong. Having said that, the ghostly old hag warning them of their impending doom, the father who kills himself for no reason and the children who suddenly become psychic are thankfully interrupted by bank-robber Lisa getting her fingers ripped off.

There’s also a twist ending that never quite works – its arrival is far too late to sustain any kind of interest. Therefore, the two police officers introduced during the second act, supposedly offering humour and backstory, deliver little other than a smirk-inducing scene involving guns and playground hilarity.

Visually, the locations work but the special effects reek of computers. This is fine when a scene focuses on the surreal; the swarm of bats and digit-dropping segment commendable, but relying on technology to supply the film with all of its blood is unforgivable. What’s wrong with pig’s blood or, dare I say it, red paint – is it really better to produce the image on a computer rather than use other traditional, and much more realistic, techniques? As for samurai zombies, the only kick the audience gets is from one kick moments before the finale – less is certainly not more.

The leads do offer solid performances, and though the low budget proves obvious at times, the film does offer moments for most to enjoy. Despairingly, there is maybe about twenty minutes of story (and that’s being generous), whilst even less is dedicated to characterization and plot, but a couple of set-pieces and an intriguing opening sequence keeps the viewer hoping for better things, and the ending at the very least offers something to make the journey worthwhile.

Sadly less than engaging after the opening gambit, Samurai Zombie is likely to be appreciated the most by seasoned splatter-horror buffs, whilst newcomers to the genre will be looking elsewhere for their gratuitous entertainment, wondering what all the fuss is about.

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