Battle Girl: The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay Review
When a meteor crashes into Japan, creating an unexplainable force field within the heart of Tokyo, the Ground Self-Defence Force, led by Captain Fujioka (Pink Eiga veteran Shiro Shimomoto) places a blockade around the city as they declare martial law. Shrouded in darkness, its citizens have little place to go, nor viable means to survive with the immediate closure of all services and an escalation of violent crime. Unfortunately the meteor’s landing seems to have brought even bigger issues: a virus capable of raising the dead and turning them into dim-witted cannibals. Zombies! Rargh.
Enter K-Ko (Cutie Suzuki): a young woman working for a vague organization which asks for her help in finding survivors and fending off the zombie horde because she’s the best of the best of the best - in whatever it is she does. Armed only with the latest in battle-suit technology, K-Ko must save Tokyo and take down a very bad man with only one goal in mind. I’ll leave you to guess what that is.
Kazuo Komizu began his career at the tail-end of the 1960s as a screenwriter for the rising Pink Cinema scene, marking his debut as a co-author on Koji Wakamatsu’s Go Go, Second Time Virgin. It was one of very few films in Komizu’s career that would make it onto DVD in the west in an official capacity almost a decade ago: a dark coming-of-age tale of sexual exploration and abuse which would see the pairing of the two talents continue on for a couple more features, thus allowing Komizu to explore other avenues as an A.D. He would subsequently go on to work with other esteemed directors such as Pink Cinema greats Masaru Konuma and Mamoru Watanabe; experiences that would prove especially fruitful throughout the eighties with Komizu gaining more immediate recognition thanks to a number of self-penned “erotic” horrors (“erotic” being applied very loosely I might add). Shortly after the notorious Female Market he made his directorial debut with Guts of a Virgin in 1986. Like many others that featured his involvement, it was bootlegged for quite some time, until U.S. label Synapse issued it and one of its two follow-ups several years ago. Continuing to show its appreciation for the director’s work it now sends forth his 1991 V-Cinema outing: Battle Girl.
It’s a slight departure for Kazuo Komizu. Nowhere near as violently graphic, nor sexually depraved as his earlier features, the director takes a different step in his career with a feature that despite its unrated certificate here is largely an inoffensive and lightweight affair, with not a great deal to even warrant parents shielding it from young prying eyes. It’s the director at his most sedate, helming a science fiction horror with all the enthusiasm of a cat on its way to the vet.
It’s not long before Battle Girl’s influences start to seem apparent, coming across as a bit of a pastiche of U.S. cult action/SF cinema and Japanese comics. From George Romero and John Carpenter to Mamoru Oshii, Komizu’s feature, with its representations of social decay, comfortably nests itself within the Cyberpunk genre; its dystopian visions and socio-political commentary lending themselves to a rather typical scenario involving national isolation and the fight for independency. Having a considerably lower budget and lacking the necessary visual flair, however, Komizu doesn’t exactly reach any remarkable highs. Rather the film is overly content in rallying off bouts of convoluted techno-babble to make as much use of its sci-fi trappings as possible, much to the distilling of an already short run time and the opening of a few plot concerns as the narrative forgoes more of the important characterization that it alludes to early on.
But throughout these 74 minutes Battle Girl does have its moments and at least shows it for being just as ridiculous as Komizu’s earlier efforts behind the lens. While its static appearance doesn’t make for any real excitement, it tends to deliver its goods in an unintentionally humorous manner in both the acting and action departments. The fight sequences, largely carried out by Cutie Suzuki - wearing a non-flattering bin liner of a battle suit - and fellow pro-wrestlers Devil Masami, Eagle Sawai and Shinobu Kandori, are rather surprisingly poorly choreographed: nothing more than slowly performed exchanges of blows accompanied by cartoon-ish sound effects, which do well to raise a few smiles, albeit at the expense of stripping away any tension that the director is trying to build. With its added explosions, loads of smoke and unusual smatterings of green blood, Battle Girl isn’t particularly original by any means, but it’s nonetheless a functional time waster for those who still may yet to tire of, well, cute chicks fighting zombies.
Synapse presents the feature in its original 1.33:1 ratio, being that it was made primarily for the VHS market. And it looks very nice; replicating a natural colour balance, accurate contrast levels and solid enough blacks, whilst sporting a rich layer of grain that plays its part in securing a gritty atmosphere.
The Japanese DD Stereo mix is also good, despite its obvious limitations. Most of the action takes place across the front channels, as with dialogue, but it certainly has a strong amount of clarity and there are no major issues to report. Optional English subtitles are included, doing the job nicely with a solid translation.
The only bonus on the disc is an interview with director Kazuo Komizu, but at close to an hour in length it provides enough information to please viewers. Komizu’s memory of working on the film is a little hazy at times as he smokes perpetually throughout, on occasion overcoming some general discomfort for questions he has little to elaborate on. Pressed by the interviewer though he does reveal much about the production. He discusses his initial reaction to the screenplay and the difficulties that arise when working on someone else’s idea, especially when dealing with a tight budget in which a lot of work goes into overcoming particular constraints. His honesty is the nicest thing here; he’s all too aware of the film’s shortcomings, citing the acting as being uniformly poor and lamenting that the restrictions of the battle suits made the fight scenes look as funny as they do, while also giving reasons for certain aesthetic choices. He also lists some of his favourite American genre films and provides his own jovial thoughts on the zombie phenomenon.