Japanese Film Review: Kaji Kengo’s SAMURAI PRINCESS (2009)

I’m a big fan of Asian Extreme cinema (Patrick Galloway’s Asia Shock is a great introduction). Like most nerds, I’ll watch all movies that fall into this category…even if I only end up liking 50% of them. Unfortunately this was the case with Kaji Kengo’s Samurai Princess (2009). Sporting the talents of Nishimura Yoshihiro (the man responsible for the effects in Tokyo Gore Police), this movie had a lot of promise to be another flick full of nonsense, gore, and gory nonsense. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver on every level.

Starring AV (adult video) actress Kishi Aino as the Samurai Princess, the movie is a standard revenge story set in an ‘alternate’ Japan. Out for a fun romp by a river in a creepy forest with her friends (you know, because that’s what young girls do?), a band of colorfully-dressed rapists decide to make sport of the young girls and proceed to rape and kill everyone but her. Shortly thereafter, her mostly intact body is discovered by a mad scientist, his annoying maid side-kicks, and a Buddhist priestess. Compelled by her plight, the scientist transforms her body into a ‘Mecha’ (some sort of advanced cybernetic doll) and the priestess infuses her with the souls of her eleven dead friends. Of course, the scientist also enhanced the body of the gang leader responsible for the murders and expects to watch her fail for his own entertainment. But, with the aid of a mysterious young man with a fur-clad guitar and the help of her dead sisters, the Samurai Princess ultimately succeeds in her suicide mission. On the way, she encounters plenty of breast grenades (reusable?), guitar swords, chainsaw legs, and buckets of blood you’d expect from a typical ero guro (エログロ,) films. Pretty standard stuff.
However, the overall effect is lackluster. First off, the setting is really never adequately explained. Initially, Samurai Princess appears to be set in an alternate feudal Japan overrun by mutants with bad fashion sense. But many of the costumes and props imply that the movie is set in more modern times. Not that the exact date is really important, but it seems a bit inconsistent. Also – why is every damn scene set in a forest? Why is everyone in a forest? Is it a special forest that is stuck in a wormhole that separates them from the time stream? Look, I know that the real reason is because this was the location they could afford given the budget. Plenty of extreme horror flicks are set in ridiculous forest locations, but they also explain WHY they are there. In Versus, it’s because the characters are either A) escaping from prison or B) yakuza burying dead bodies. In Zombie Jietai, it’s because the characters are either A) filming a weird idol video or B) conducting field training. The reason doesn’t need to be good, but it needs to exist. 

Finally some BOOBS

Additionally, the low budget really hurt this film a lot. There are plenty of ways to work around budget limitations, basically none of these films are made with a lot of money and many of them are quite good. But in the case of Samurai Princess, it looks like the costumes were made by a designer who can’t sew (mostly they just have swatches of cloth draped over store-bought pieces). The film is also shot on video, usually handheld, and it’s fairly obvious no one was expecting this movie to be shown in theaters. Even the presence of the exceptionally talented and creative Nishimura Yoshihiro isn’t enough to make the gore and special effects decently enjoyable. If you’ve picked up this movie because, like me, you love to see endless rivers of blood created by bizarre crazy half-man/half-machine creatures, you will be disappointed. Finally, the performance by Kishi Aino really isn’t strong enough to carry the film. If they had cast a more capable actress, the lower budget and story limitations might be less irritating. Unfortunately, Kishi infuses the Samurai Princess with little personality or emotion of any kind. Even the nudity and sex is lacking. For a film that was promoted as ‘adult,’ I really expected MORE!
Samurai Princess hasn’t made me hate this genre of filmmaking. While it does boast many of the men responsible for making Japanese gore so internationally popular (particularly Nishimura), it’s definitely not something I’m going to watch again or show other people.

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Comments (5)

  1. Paul

    The problem is you have a low budget film trying to be a high budget Hollywood epic.

    Bad story + bad acting + Hollywood = major onscreen success (twilight (.)(.))
    Bad story + bad acting + niche market = major flop.

    Also the low budget films want to compete with the successes of the Hollywood industry and there are few and far between thought provoking films.

    But can you really compare a low budget film to one a film that budget outstrips that by 10 x.

    Horror stories only grip me when I care about the actors. It’s the whole why did you go in that door way without any kind of defence / what idiot goes into an abandon house.This suspense that keeps me (the audience) coming back.

    The only US budget horror flick that I have loved is the Evil dead series (If you have not seen it watch it!) with Bruce Campbell.

    The problem is the role model of a lot of these movies is Hollywood and there lies the problem of modern films and independent films. They aren’t willing to think out of the box unlike niche movies. It is the old cliché of what has worked before we do again. Big bangs , big boobs = big bucks. (on a side note she has nice boobs in the movie).

    So going back to the original point Bad story + bad acting + niche market = major flop.

    The front cover of the film looks like a poor mans rip off from resident evil as well…

    I do love Japanese horror but the currently trend seems to be all hype 

    December 1, 2011
    • constantineintokyo

      Well, I think comparing these Japanese ero guro films to Hollywood is like comparing apples to…blood-filled water balloons? They really aren’t trying to accomplish the same thing. Even the really successful Japanese horror flicks are made on a substantially smaller budget than Hollywood movies. And these Japanese gore movies aren’t even ‘horror’ movies in the sense that they aren’t actually intended to be scary. Samurai Princess, Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl, Zombie Jietai, Junk…I doubt anyone in Japan or the West really feels terrified by watching them.

      This style of filmmaking in Japan has definitely been heavily influenced by films like The Evil Dead franchise, which was made on a ridiculously small budget. I’ve heard different stories about the prototype film ‘Within the Woods.’ Sam Raimi made this movie first as a way to convince investors to fund Evil Dead. By some accounts, they were initially trying to make a truly scary horror film, but the result was so ridiculous that, while not scary, it developed a cult following. I think the big thing to keep in mind is that cult classics are always made organically – if you intend to make a ‘cult classic’ right from the get-go, it’s probably going to fail. I think that is the main problem with many of the Japanese splatter movies…no matter how many chainsaw legs or machinegun arms you throw in, the audience can sense when something is artificial or forced. But, Japan is definitely the country that is continuing the legacies of The Evil Dead franchise or Romero’s zombie movies in much of their horror cinema.

      I think that good filmmaking and screen writing is something that can always rise above small budgets. Even the most successful American horror movies are typically smaller budget productions…that may or may not be remade later with larger budgets. Paranormal Activity was hugely successful – it was shot on a home video camera and made for nearly nothing. Thankfully, they decided not to reshoot it on a bigger budget (though they did mess with the ending). Horror movies with larger budgets and more studio-influence are usually boring…just look at the recent slew of 1970s remakes (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, etc). They sucked, on multiple levels, despite their larger budgets and better effects.

      But I think that you are definitely right about Japanese horror right now. It is all ‘hype.’ Thanks to the huge success of a few very good films, the entire genre has become very commercialized. I talked a little bit about this in my review of Shock Labyrinth 3D. Japanese studios know that horror movies will make them money. Unfortunately, while there are now tons of J-horror movies out there, the quality has definitely declined significantly.

      December 1, 2011
  2. john

    your review was more entertaining than the movie. i agree with you. saw it. quit in middle to go eat some squid and rice. Rice and squid OK; movie not.

    December 1, 2011
    • constantineintokyo

      Well, I’m glad something entertaining came out of this movie. I was watching it with a friend and started to get nervous that they’d never want to watch Japanese movies with me again because of it! Also, I am now hungry. Thanks a lot, heesh. 😉

      December 1, 2011

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