DIRECTED BY: Kengo Kaji
FEATURING: Aino Kishi, Dai Mizuno
PLOT: In a timeless mystical forest, a rape survivor takes on the souls of her eleven
dead sisters and becomes a cyborg to avenge them.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Samurai Princess is a relatively unambitious attempt to cash in on the biohorror/splatterpunk formula established in Meatball Machine (2005); fans of this stuff will be probably be reasonably entertained, but newcomers would be better off checking out the aforementioned Meatball Machine or Tokyo Gore Police instead.
COMMENTS: In a few short years, the works of an incestuous group of Japanese writers/directors/FX gurus have created a new Japanese splatterpunk formula focusing on slim but fantastic storylines; extreme, absurd gore effects; and the modification of body parts into bioweapons. This phenomenon is only five years old, but it’s already reminiscent of what happened with Troma: the studio had a hit, and spent the rest of its existence remaking The Toxic Avenger over and over under different names. Samurai Princess is a lesser entry in this new genre, and at times it feels like the square peg of the splaterpunk formula is being forced into the round hole of a gentler, more reflective fantasy. The idea of a justice-seeking living vessel infused with the souls of eleven raped virgins feels like an old Japanese legend, but making that instrument of vengeance a cyborg with detachable boob-bombs is a faddish approach that doesn’t click. The movie’s setting—a primeval forest haunted by brigands, loners and mad scientists, a place that’s even “out of Buddha’s jurisdiction”—is promising. It’s a place out of time; the kimonos and katanas suggest feudal Japan, but there are plenty of anachronisms like chainsaws, cameras, and novelty sunglasses with blinking Christmas lights on the frame. The cast that romps through the forest is nicely bizarre: besides the main character (who’s neither a samurai nor a princess), there’s one mad doctor who collects body parts to build “mechas,” a rival cyborg-building maniac with a pair of female sidekicks who speak in unison, a Buddhist nun with magical powers, a wandering renegade who uses power chords from his electric guitar as a weapon, and a pair of fashion-obsessed teenage girls with teleportation powers who are risking their lives mecha-hunting as a lark. Princess is a tiny bit light on the gore relative to other entries in the genre (though for the average viewer the extreme, cartoonish dismemberment will be off-putting), but in one memorably absurd scene a man carves up his enemies with his chainsaw leg; as the limbs and organs are sliced off they magically arrange themselves into a pagan altar, and he and his paramour dance around in celebration as gushing blood showers around them. There’s also mediocre English dubbing, a penis monster and campy dialogue like “You’re a nun, right? So it’s easy to put souls into a mecha. Fantastic!” With all of this going on, it’s a surprise that Princess falls so flat as entertainment; Kaji is so much in a rush to get to the next gore or battle scene or introduce the next crazy character that he forgets to tell a meaningful story or get us interested in what he’s already given us. In the end its like a dish made entirely of spices, with no meat. Just like with a Troma movie, the first one of these splatterpunk epics you see may seem astoundingly unique; but there’s a diminishing return of weirdness with each new entry you view. Some will fall in love with the formula, others will get bored quickly, but either way, Samurai Princess is not one of the better examples of the genre. More than anything it seems like a missed opportunity, bringing up interesting fantasy ideas but failing to exploit them, falling back instead on crowd-pleasing cyborg gore.
The films comprising the new Japanese splatterpunk canon are Meatball Machine (2005), The Machine Girl (2008), Tokyo Gore Police (2008), Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009), and this, with more undoubtedly to come. Some of the key figures in the genre are Yûdai Yamaguchi, Jun’ichi Yamamoto, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Naoyuki Tomomatsu, and Noboru Iguchi. Directors and writers often show up as crew members on each others projects; for example, Kagi, the director of Princess, was also the co-writer of Tokyo Gore Police. Nishimura, who supervises special effects and makeup on most of these films as well as directing, may be the most important figure in the movement.
At the time of this writing, Samurai Princess is available to watch for free on YouTube.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The mutant creations are bizarre, the effects satisfyingly squishy. The ‘new flesh’ proposed in Tokyo Gore Police is in full effect here, combatants on both sides remolded and reshaped into nightmarish new forms… While he may struggle some under his budget limitations, writer-director Kengo Kaji injects the story with his distinctive brand of madness.”–Todd Brown, Twitch