CONTAINS SPOILERS AND WEIRDNESS
General question: how do we feel about futuristic action/horror fantasy movies featuring female leads in a state of undress? Does it objectify or demean? Does it empower or sexualise? One remembers films like Barbarella or Starcrash, or more recently Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Aeon Flux, in which the heroines capered about in costumes clearly designed for the more depraved fantasies of the male audience rather than any practical evil-fighting benefit to the wearer. One remembers Doctor Who's scantily-clad Leela taking over from the sensibly-dressed Sarah Jane Smith. One remembers the screaming fuss over a brief shot of Alice Eve in her undies in Star Trek: Into Darkness. I honestly have no idea if it's feminism or not.
The inexplicably-titled Chanbara Beauty is a Japanese zombie movie in which sword-wielding Aya, the unsmiling heroine, prefers to fight zombies while wearing a bikini and a ten-gallon hat. There is no explanation given for this curious strategy: it's unlikely the ambulant dead are going to be distracted from their quest by the sight of a women in her underwear, and surely in a world of flesh-eating undead it makes no sense to expose as much of your raw meat as possible. Aya is on a quest to track down her sister Saki, who dresses in school uniform. Again: no reason given for the costume choice, but it's a Japanese film so may have more relevance for the local audience. She's aided by gunslinger Reiko (who prefers skin-tight black leather) who's looking for the one-eyed mad scientist who created the zombie outbreak in the first place, and bumbling idiot Katsuji, who has neither courage nor weapons and who only manages to kill one zombie - and that's when it's busy chowing down on someone else. Eventually Saki and Aya confront each other and fight with magic swords that give them the ability to teleport and throw balls of coloured fire at each other...
I'm generally all in favour of zompocalypse movies and cool kick-ass women, and putting the two together is fine by me. But it's nonsense. If Aya has a magic sword that wipes out all the zombs in the vicinity, why doesn't she use that power all the time? Why are they walking everywhere - where are the cars or trucks that would be a lot faster and a lot better as defence against the zombie hordes? Indeed, given that set sometime in the future (the year 20XX, according to the opening captions), where's any of tomorrow's technology? Why is mad Dr Sugita working alone in apparently one room, and exactly what is he trying to achieve that requires blood from only Saki's family line?
You could perhaps ignore all that if it was at least put together with gusto, but it isn't. Much of it is dark and murky, shot cheaply and digitally, and all the blood splatter is done with CGI that couldn't look worse if it had been scribbled on with a felt-tip pen. They even put CG blood spurts onto the camera lens half a dozen times in the opening fight scene, before apparently getting bored with that idea and not using it again. And most importantly, despite that brilliant central theme of bikini-clad woman slaughtering zombies with a sword, it's surprisingly dull stuff. Those who can get on board with the lunacy and ignore all the problems might get some moderate fun out of it, but there's little if anything to be had by anyone else.