Bloody Chainsaw Girl (2016) by Hiroki Yamaguchi

Rio Uchida stars as a chainsaw-wielding teenage delinquent in this slice of silly splatter comedy. Giko Nokomura (Uchida) is a rebellious high-schooler, who inexplicably totes around a chainsaw (telling her teachers it’s due to her family’s construction business). On her way to school to take a make-up test she is waylaid by a group of classmates who have been transformed into cyborgs by Nero Aoi (Mari Yamachi), a troubled fellow student. Amongst them is Sayuri Bakutani (Seira Sato), whose post-human upgrades include the ability to fire rockets from her crotch. As well as these cyborg students, Giko also has to deal with members of the ninja club, led by Hanzo (Yuki Tamaki), a transgender student whose ninja skills are also bolstered by Nero’s experimental cyborgization.

“Bloody Chainsaw Girl” is a tongue-in-cheek splatter comedy, fully aware of its own ridiculousness. Director Hiroki Yamaguchi includes everything that you might expect from the genre: low budget special effects, unnecessary upskirt angles and unexpected nudity, hyper-energetic performances, gory dismemberments, and plot-holes galore. The film’s humour does provide a few puerile laughs and gets by on the sheer audacity of the film-maker’s intentions. Much of what happens seems like an attempt to test out various special-effects, utilising CG and practical effects, with the flimsiest of plots stringing these things together. The film is based on the manga by Rei Mikamoto, and the direction shows this influence in its unrestrained use of dutch-angles and frantic camerawork, as well as the music video-like credits sequence that is straight out of an anime. The score by Masahiko Horikura is emotional and solid. As with the direction, it shows a competence that sometimes seems wasted on this particular story. The film makes great use of its locations. Although the abandoned school and rooftop are staples of the low-budget genre, the underground industrial facility makes a superb villain’s lair.

The cast do a great job with their characters, treating them with largely undeserved reverence. Uchida’s Giko is a no-nonsense, unwilling heroine, more concerned with the results of her test than the bizarre cyborg invasion happening around her; while Mari Yamachi goes all-out super-villain with her over-the-top performances as Nero. At around 80-minutes, the film gets straight into the action and is a clear run to the final showdown. An entertaining splatter film that leans into its silliness. There is a message here, about how loners can choose between two paths, of revenge or acceptance of who they are, as well as references to sexism and bullying; but to be honest the plot and themes are largely iirrelevant. Simply switch off your brain and enjoy the gory spectacle of a high-school girl tearing through cyborgs with a chainsaw.

Cellular Girlfriend (2011) by Mari Asato

A deadly mobile phone dating game begins to claim the lives of players and other victims in this follow up to Keitai Kareshi. The mysterious game from the “i-Scream” company appears on young men’s phones. They must text a digital young woman (Seika Taketomi) and keep her happy in order to increase the “Love Gauge”. The final command of Erika (the young woman in the game) is to kill, which they happily oblige before dying themselves, while those who fail the game die immediately. Meanwhile, Takashi (Toru Baba) is searching for his young sister who he believes is the spirit trapped in the game. He comes across another high-school girl, also called Erika (Airi Suzuki), who it seems has a special connection with his sister, as this other Erika is troubled by visions of a brutal murder.

The film is written by Yoichi Minamikawa and director Mari Asato. With its risible plot and melodramatic acting, “Keitai Kanojo” is unlikely to thrill hardcore horror fans. The best moments in the film concern the two Erika’s psychological connection, using simple effects such as rapidly fading light and shifting locations to create a sense of subtle threat. The film opens with a man completing “Keitai Kanojo” by murdering an unsuspecting stranger, but this is something that the film moves away from as it progresses to focus more on the supernatural elements. It finds itself not really working as a psychological horror or a gory thriller as for the most part there is scant build-up to what is happening, as if the film itself is racing through plot points to reach the conclusion. There is little creativity in the murders and the deaths caused by the game itself involve the person simply collapsing with a groan.

The idea of mixing the supernatural with modern technology is common in contemporary horror (Ring, One Missed Call) and the film’s premise is not unpromising. The idea of addiction to mobile phones, gaming and social media, and how this might drive individuals to violence by warping their sense of value is one that the film could have explored, but spends little time on. Similarly, there is potential for the film to delve into the social isolation engendered by this technology with the men choosing to play this virtual girlfriend game rather than engaging with real women. It is a shame because these would have been more interesting aspects to explore than the ideas of a cursed phone that the film spends the majority of its time on.

Battle Girl The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay (1991) by Kazuo Komizu

After a meteor lands in Tokyo Bay, the chemical reaction causes parts of the population to turn into zombies. A blockade is placed round the area and the ground defence force take control of the city. While they scramble to create an antidote, Keiko (Cutie Suzuki), the daughter of an army colonel, is brought in to help rescue any survivors. She later comes face to face with the Fujioka (Kenji Otsuki), the leader of the ground defence force, and his sinister plans.

Written by Hitoshi Matsuyama and directed by Kazuo Komizu, “Battle Girl” is classic B-movie fare, with an outlandish premise and predictable plot that serves only to move the characters from one action scene to another. The film is self-aware enough to realise its inherent silliness, often leaning into it, for example having Keiko lift a man by the neck upside down, or a zombie that is diced up into pieces. Cutie Suzuki, a pro-wrestler before starring in this film, has a great presence, clearly familiar with portraying a tough character. It is perhaps surprising that the use of her skills as a fighter is quite limited, with only a few moments showing off wrestling moves. For the most part she is a generic action heroine. Despite the predictable plot, the film throws in enough elements to keep things engaging, such as the ‘Battle Kids’, a group of young survivors who have teamed up to try and escape the city, and the ‘Monsters’, a group of thugs charged with preventing Keiko discovering Fujioka’s secrets. The action scenes are engaging, again benefitting from having a wrestler in the lead role, and the decapitations, explosions, and gun fights ensure there is rarely a dull moment. There are a few laughably poor special effects, understandable given the small budget, using obvious dummies; but for the most part the gore is good. Where the film does excel is in creating an eerie post-apocalyptic environment, with sparsely furnished industrial settings giving a sense of desolation and decay. The ambient score likewise emphasises this threat-laden atmosphere. There are a couple of strong visuals and scenes in the film too, particularly when Keiko confronts a group of zombies, and the plot builds to two fantastic large scale sequences of zombie assaults on the survivors.

On the whole, “Battle Girl” is a fun, fast-paced, action-horror, with an entertaining turn from star Cutie Suzuki. The themes of corrupt officials and military personnel, the dangers of radiation and scientific arrogance are familiar to the genre and the plot will not surprise fans of this type of story. However, there is some genuine artistry here in the stylish direction, soundscape and set design that make it worth a watch.

Sweet Home (1989) by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

A film crew head to the mysterious country mansion of a deceased artist to uncover his lost paintings, only to be terrorized by the ghost of his wife. Film director Kazuo (Shingo Yamashiro), his daughter Emi (Nokko), producer Akiko (Nobuko Miyamoto), reporter and host Asuka (Fukumi Kuroda), and crewman Taguchi (Ichiro Furutachi) enter the mansion in the woods unsuspecting of their fate. They are delighted to discover a never-before-seen mural depicting a mother with child, but soon things begin to take a sinister turn. Asuka begins speaking in tongues and digs up the coffin of an infant outside. The crew come to realise that the house is haunted, or ‘cursed’ as they are later told by elderly gas station manager Yamamura (Juzo Itami) who comes to their aid. The terrifying backstory of the Mamiya family is brought to light and the crew find themselves in a fight for survival against the violent spirit of Lady Mamiya.

“Sweet Home”, written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, was released alongside a videogame of the same name. This video game was one of the primary inspirations behind the original “Resident Evil” game, which has since gone on to spawn numerous sequels and a film series of its own. Kurosawa’s film is based on a simple premise, a cursed house that the group must survive, one that allows the characters and outrageous action to take precedence. In many ways the reason for them being at the mansion is insignificant, the central story is of what happened to the Mamiyas and how they are going to escape with their lives. Lady Mamiya’s backstory is a gothic, gruesome tale; mostly told in exposition it nevertheless provokes a shudder. The film varies in tone from knockabout comedy, such as when Taguchi nearly accidentally decapitates Kazuo with a hefty axe he found in a shed, to some increidble gore effects in the latter half that stand alongside the best in the splatter film genre. The mix of simple effects, CG effects, and audacious practical monster effects make for an enjoyable watch for fans of fantastical horror. The cast do a great job, both in the lighthearted comedy and the horror action. The relationships between the widower Kazuo and his daughter, and Kazuo and Akiko, are engaging and provide a solid secondary plot thread through the shocks and scares of the main story. Kurosawa’s direction makes the most of the locations, filling them with dark shadows, and making the mansion come alive. It treads several well-worn tropes (the eerie mansion, the local who warns them of danger, the group dynamics of comedic and serious characters), but the skill of the director is in creating something that is fun and engaging even with that familiar premise.

Themes of family run strongly through the film, with Kazuo and Emi having lost a wife and mother, and the story of Lady Mamiya revolving around the loss of her own child in horrifying circumstances. The relationship between Kazuo and Emi is the reverse of Mamiya who lost a child. The loss of his wife has left Kazuo unsure of how to raise his daughter and unable to form new relationships, for example with Akiko. Likewise, Emi seems to be missing her mother, though in subtler ways, perhasp the reason she wants her father to remarry. Their drama is at odds with the events that occur at the Mamiya mansion, almost a completely separate narrative about trying to rediscover love and rebuild a relationship with a bereaved child. However, it is this juxtaposition that makes the film exciting. “Sweet Home” has a knack for turning on a sixpence from chilling to funny to poignant, switching emotional register without skipping a beat. The disparate elements create something that is hugely entertaining, with moments to please horror fans of all kinds.

Ghost Squad (2018) by Noboru Iguchi

A team of ghosts come to a young woman to ask for her help in getting revenge against their murderers in this slapstick horror from Noboru Iguchi (Dead Sushi, Mutant Girls Squad). Rika (Anna Yanagi) is gifted with the ability to see the dead. After splitting up with her boyfriend, a trio of ghosts appear to cause havoc, beating up this man on her behalf. They explain to her that people living on the cusp of life and death, such as her, are able to see the ghosts. These restless spirits are also able to draw her life energy, somewhat inexplicably, by kissing her. We learn that all of these ghosts were murdered and are seeking restitution. Keiko (Sumire Ueno), a schoolgirl who was killed before being able to give her father his birthday present; Akari (Minori Mikado), a cutesy twin-tailed teen, who acts like a puppy when she gets excited; and Yoshie (Yuni Hong), whom Rika had previously believed was her (living) friend. They are later joined by Naomi (Asaka Nakamura), a spirit guide and trainer, who helps get the team in shape for taking on their adversaries, a group of gangsters in the town responsible for their torture and deaths.

This comedic horror is lighthearted for the most part, albeit with dark and serious undertones of rape and murder of young teen women. As with Noboru Iguchi’s other works, it is fun to see these capable female protagonists getting even with the reprehensible men who cut their lives short. The energy and enthusiasm of the actresses makes the most of a ridiculous script. The cast go all out with the material, flinging themselves gleefully into their roles. They have excellent comedic skills, managing to pull of the puerile sight gags and remain straightfaced while reading a script packed with bizarre moments. However, when the film does dip into more emotional territory they prove themselves more than capable, being completely captivating and creating a genuine sense of loss concerning their deaths. The direction is crisp and clean, helping maintain a bright and cheerful atmosphere, and there is fun, cartoonish CG with the ghost energy effects. Iguchi is also known for crude, disgusting, practical effects work, but this film is tame by comparison to others, with scenes only occasionaly featuring body horror. Hints of exploitation cinema are also limited to the girls kissing and one egregious scene with an actress stripping down to her underwear to have an ‘air shower’. As with “Dead Sushi” it occupies a peculiar situation, with the style, characters and humour being almost straight from a children’s film, while the focus on rape and murder, and the occasional gruesome effect could not be considered child friendly. This seeming mismatch between tone and content will be familiar to those who have seen other works, adult themes with childish sensibilities.

“Ghost Squad” is a fun comedy-horror but nevertheless has genuine heart. The trio of ghosts are sympathetic due to their traumatic ordeals and having their lives taken away long before their time. Amongst the comedy and chaos of the story we have several moments that delve into some dark and difficult reflection on such crimes. The film asks us to consider not only the suffering of the victims, but the adequacy of the justice system that allows men to perpetrate such crimes with immunity or limited punishment. It also questions whether there is any possibility of redemption and what the role of revenge is in society. However, the film’s central thematic focus is on the tragedy of the victims, who have lost the most important thing: life; and also to realise how precious life is in a world where it can be easily taken away.