Contains mild spoilers.
A bikini if you think about it, is quite the sensible choice when it comes to zombie dispatching apparel. Plenty of freedom to move and react, it's easy to notice if you've inadvertently received a bite or scratch and it's got to reduce the laundry workload, what with all the blood and gore. Aya (Eri Otoguro) thinks so anyway and after watching her in action I'm not going to argue.
Aya is a zombie slayer extraordinaire. A samurai sword wielding slaughterhouse she slices and dices her way through the ravenous hordes with poise, surety and a breathtaking array of moves. As she leaps, spins and somersaults, passing her sword through the undead as if they were made of butter what is clear from the chaotic and action packed opening, is that director and co-writer Yohei Fukuda is not going to stray far from its video game roots. Make no mistake this is comic-book stuff, pure Japanese fantasy; her moves are exaggerated, her and her sword are magical and the undead are not going to follow any arbitrary established set of rules.
The world of man has fallen and zombies have taken over. It says so, right at the start. Aya and her cowardly, useless, comedic side-kick Katsuji (Tomohiro Waki) are searching for their sisters. Unlike Katsuji though, Aya isn't looking for a heart-warming reunion, she's looking to avenge the death of her father, which Saki (Chise Nakamura) was responsible. Aya and Katsuji are joined on their mission by the equally proficient zombie-slayer Reiko (Manami Hashimoto). Reiko is tight-leather wearing shot-gun wielding death dealer and another broken soul on a mission of revenge.
It's a thin and tacked on story in all honesty. An afterthought to move the narrative from one lavish action sequence to the next. It's well executed and competent enough and gives Aya and Reiko a bit of back-story and the film some semblance of depth but it's not something you're going to particularly care about or remember. What we're here for is the zombie fights.
The zombies are actually the deranged creation of Dr. Sugita (Tarô Suwa), the text-book evil villain and are a total hodgepodge of genre and type. Out on the streets the zombies shuffle and groan, when they fight they go all fast and gnarly, then there's the somersaulting weapon wielding ones and the myriad of zombie bosses each with their own super-weapon and quirky identity. It's pure video game nonsense but not without it's charms. Aya and Reiko go about dispatching them, as said, with video game speed and agility and a barrage of CG explosions and slices, as if we're actually watching star wars and they have a blaster and a light-sabre; Fukuda even has the audacity to include power-ups. It's explosive, well choreographed and actually quite fun, if a little repetitive at times.
It's hard to be too critical of Chanbara Beauty. It is what it is. An absurd, over the top comic book adventure with a director not scared to just go for it. I recently reviewed another sword fighting zombie film and they share the same lack of actual content, but at least Chanbara at least tries to keep a smile on our face. Also despite the emphasis on Aya's attire the film is never tacky or cheap with it, treating it more like fanciful cosplay than fan-service. Not a film I'd recommend to the purist but as cheap over the top video game thrill ride it wasn't too bad. I've also found out there's a sequel, Chanbara Beauty: Vortex though I don't know if this excites or scares me, 5/10.