Original Title: Samurai purinsesu: Gedô-hime
Directed by: Kengo Kaji
Distributed by: Njuta Films
...and on the topic of splatter movies, there’s no hesitation at mind when I say that the Japanese are rightfully making an impressive claim to the throne of innovative splatter flick makers. Some of the stuff that is coming out in Japan and finding it’s way across the ocean thanks to enthusiastic distributors is absolutely fabulous. It certainly does ooze with that same aura of a over energetic kid jumping up and down waving it’s hand, screaming look at me, look at me, and they certainly are fun.
Being a fan of both Higuchinsky’s amazing Uzumaki 2000 and Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police 2008 – which both saw Kengo Kaji involved with their writing process, I obviously was curious of what he would have come up for his first theatrical feature with when I initially heard of Samurai Princess. Also the fact that he was teaming up with Nishimura again, this time with Nishimura producing and supervising the special effects obviously saturated the movie with a certain attraction.
In a quick fix let’s say that the movie is all about a young woman - the only survivor after bandits rape and murder twelve schoolgirls - get’s the chance to be reborn as a Cyborg and take revenge on the band of killers. And that’s the starting point for a violent and entropic journey that will leave a river of mutilated corpses and rivers of blood in its trail.
What at first may seem like a pretty shallow and simple story is somewhat evolved take and ironic gaze upon the age-old legend of Frankenstein. You can’t play God and create life without paying the ultimate price. It’s when the realisation that the person giving Samurai Princess [AV starlet Aino Kishi] her chance to avenge her friends – even if it is reanimated as Cyborg with a stern operative programme – the enigmatic scientist Insanity, is at the same time responsible for unleashing the gang of foul murderers roaming the lands that the ironic twist becomes apparent. And in the quest to take out the people responsible for murdering and raping her eleven friends, the path leads right up to Insanity.
Samurai Princess may be pretty low on story and packed with glorious ultra violence, but at some point I feel that these movies in many ways are linked to those great movies that spawned that brilliant series of female avenger movies. Movies like Shunya Itô’s Female Convict movies [1972-1973] and Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood [1973-1974] films starring Meiko Kaji and obviously come to mind. Nothing is as empathetic as a gorgeous young woman out for vengeance. And taking the best of Japanese cinema I find the mix of old style feudal Chanbara and modern cyberpunk sci-fi to work like a charm.
There’s also an aura of Edogawa Rampo seeping throughout the movie – everyone is disfigured in one way or another, not to mention modified to their Cyborg states which are almost never the beautiful glossy Cyborg that we are used to, but slimy, grotesque and disfigured modifications – which definitely brings a Ero guro style to the movie.
God knows that mixing genre’s sometimes can go terribly wrong, but in Samurai Princess it works pretty well, and it’s a pretty interesting approach to set futuristic cyberpunk elements inside an obvious feudal state complete with Shogunate laws and Buddhist philosophy. In a way it is reminiscent of some of the more innovative scenes from Takashi Miike’s misunderstood IZO 2004, or may very well be looked upon as a wild mix of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner 1982, Yukio Noda’s phenomenal Zeroka no onna: Akai wappa (Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs) 1974, and Ryûhei Kitamura’s breakthrough Versus 2000. And you can’t get into this movie without thinking of Tetsuro Takeuchi’s Wild Zero 2000 as Samurai Princess partner on the journey, Moonray [Dai Mizuno] has a very interesting weapon of choice, an electric guitar that can summon up whirlwinds of lethal riffs.
So yeah, it’s not a movie made to impress with it’s immaculate screenwriting or fascinating plot if that’s what you are after, but then you shouldn’t be on this blog either, but in the library reading some book without illustrations that discusses the theoretical aspects of off-screen framing in the works of Yasujiro Ozu. Which is a fascinating discussion in it's own right, but not something that’s going to be taking place here any day soon. Instead what you get is almost an hour and a half of hilarious in-your-face gore fest that takes the ball and runs with it.
Samurai Princess may have some technical flaws – I can never really get used to movies shot on Digital Video as I’ll always be a sucker for the old grain of celluloid, but then again it does give the filmmakers unlimited possibilities to fuck around with digital effects in post even when restrained by a tight budget. And that’s exactly what Kengo Kaji and Yoshihiro Nishimura have done with Samurai Princess, you get used to the crispy video look, the effects sweep you away and the magic of moviemaking is simply fantastic. Mixing prosthetics with CG is fine by me if it’s done in the right way. Breast Missiles, Chainsaw legs, scissor feet, fountains of blood, entail Kusari-gama, screwed up mutants you name it and you get it.
Certainly in the same style of Tokyo Gore Police or even Noburo Iguchi's Kataude mashin gâru (The Machine Girl), Samurai Princess gets the job done. It’s a blast of a little movie, and to top things off Kaji makes the most of his adult video star Aino Kishi and works some nudity into the movie by letting her have a little erotic fantasy about Moonbeam in a scene that should have earned the movie the under title Do Androids Dream of Naked Action Heroes.
All hail Japanese Extreme Cinema as these guys are rushing ahead when it comes to taking classic narratives and using them in a new inventive fashion. Long live the new blood!
1.85:5 Anamorphic Widescreen.
Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese audio, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish Subtitles are optional.
Original Trailer, a twenty minute Making of featurette and trailers for other movies released by Njuta Films.
Kengo Kaji’s Samurai Princess hits the Scandinavian DVD shelves at the end of June thanks to the enthusiastic boys and girls at Njuta Films.