Onechanbara is a perfect example of the kind of glorious film experience this city has to offer, assuming you know know where to look. (Hint: try the Roxie.) This is exploitation pure and simple. You might imagine the film's conception as something like the following: "Let's see... what's popular these days? Oh, I know! Zombies! And babes! And killing! Let's make a movie of that." This is surprisingly close to reality. The only difference is that Onechanbara is actually based on a Japanese video game (series) of the same name. But video games can be exploitation too! And exploitation movies based on exploitation games are like extra-bonus exploitation. You can't really get much better than that without making the transition to hardcore porn (which I'm not necessarily against).
To be honest, I wish we had more of this kind of thing in American cinema today. It just doesn't seem like there's much of a market for low budget wonders like these, nor is there really a system in place to answer the pitiful demand that does arise. It's easier in Japan for the simple reason that they already have various frameworks in place to pump out waves of cheapo films. If we had something like Japan's V-cinema or pink film industries... well, life would be sweet. In the US, shitty cinematographers like Yohei Fukuda would never get the chance to direct shitty (awesome) movies about girls with swords. And that's sad. Think of what could be!
(Anyone interested in learning more about pink films--or who doesn't believe that worthwhile art can rise from the depths of the low-budget sex-film industry--should probably check out Jasper Sharp's new book, Behind the Pink Curtain. And by the way, I'm not suggesting that Onechanbara is a pink film. It's clearly not. It just got me thinking along those lines.)
So the rest of us have to rely on the likes of Quentin Tarantino, it seems. And while any true exploitation fan probably has somewhat ambivalent feelings toward Tarantino, I'll be the first to admit: I think the guy's got his heart in the right place. He loves schlock, and tries his damnedest to spread that love as far as it will go. For me, that simple fact outshines any shortcomings he may have, artistic or otherwise. I may let my frustration slip out a bit occasionally, but who doesn't?
Notice a pattern? Neither do I...
Luckily we (which is to say the US) also have a pretty decent independent schlock scene, so we're not totally deprived of low budget exploitative crap. But distribution is few and far between, naturally. Unless you're catching these movies at festivals (like Another Hole in the Head), you're probably watching them on DVD at home. If there's ever an exception, I try my best to be on top of it. Zombie Strippers, for instance, played a short run at the Lumiere Theater here in the city, and I made sure to be there at midnight on day one for the special opening "event." Unfortunately I was one of fewer than 10 people, 1 or 2 of whom were asleep moments into the show. Fuck! (The movie was hilarious, by the way. Not great by any means, but wonderfully disgusting. And the amount of dead nudity was... well, a lot. It will make you uncomfortable.)
Actually, talking about dead nudity just reminded me of the Masters of Horror series on Showtime. This is probably the closest thing we have (had, rather... or is it still on?) to V-Cinema schlock. A bunch of filmmakers get a bit of a budget to make an hour long horror film, which then goes straight to TV and DVD. There's not too much risk, so the directors can fuck around and make some really weird stuff without too many (financial) repercussions. A lot of these are terrible, but a few of them are totally worthwhile. (I think Argento's Pelts is the best of them, personally.) And they're all fun to watch!
Incidentally, if you missed Onechanbara and are looking to make up for it you can catch Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police this weekend (at midnight on Friday and Saturday, respectively) at the Roxie. I've seen both of these a few times now, and you're missing out if you can't say the same. And having seen them both on DVD and in the theater, I can tell you without hesitation that it's better in the theater (obviously). Not to mention the fact that it's being presented by Another Hole in the Head, which means there'll likely be mountains of free Red Hook to quench your thirst. No one has an excuse to miss this. (And for anyone participating in the Month of Terror, these totally count as horror films. Another bonus!)
What would Freud say?
Um... shit. I just realized that I sat down to write about Onechanbara specifically, but ended up getting completely sidetracked. Oh well, no big deal. The important thing is for everybody to go see it if/when they get the chance. And support your local purveyors of filmic filth! Honestly, where would you be without them?