Rika is your average Japanese schoolgirl. At least average for Jpn DTV films, which means she is about three to five years too old and has collagen implanted lips. As a matter of fact, I think every girl in Zombie Hunter Rika had artificially puffed lips. Its that kind of film.
Anyway, Rika and her friend hop the train to visit her long lost grandpa, a surgical genius and swordsman, who has been incommunicado for a few years. They step off the train to find that the prefecture is overrun with zombies. Aided by a scheming lothario, they make it to gramps house only to find that grandpa has become catatonic and married a black widow, who coincidentally is scheming with the lothario to poison the old man for his life insurance. This is immaterial, just an excuse to put two unsympathetic characters in the film to get eaten by zombies, and that is fine by me.
Eventually, a ragtag group is formed: Rika, her friend, the lothario and the black widow, the obligatory Japanese comic relief everyman trio of a cook, a mechanic, and a geek, and finally a zombiefied scientist who has somehow managed to retain his humanity, muzzled himself, and offers up all the helpful exposition. Oh yes, and Rika loses her arm but gramps springs back to life enough to sever her arm before she becomes a zombie and in its place grafts on the magical arm of a zombie killer so Rika can commence slicing and dicing. Again, it's that kind of film.
The basic lowdown, which makes about as much sense as you'd expect in your low budget, scifi, comedy, horror, action film with a heroine running around with some dudes magic swordfightin' arm attached to her body, is that the only way to reverse the plague- and I mean literally, everything goes magically back to normal including those infected or injured- is to kill some kind of zombie monster called Grorian. And, they've gotta' kill him/it before the US bombs the city to contain the outbreak.
I usually love mishmash films. It's the kind of territory Peter Jackson, Takashi Miike, and prime Sam Raimi mine so well, but director Kenichi Fujiwara seems to miss the mark at every opportunity. The action isn't all that thrilling. The horror and grue is pretty rote. And, the comedy barely elicits a smirk. A film with this much gratuity- tits, gore, action, wackiness- should have one a little more amazed. If you've seen the films, I felt much the same way about recent Japanese genre imports like Meatball Machine, Attack Girls Swim Team Versus the Undead, and to a much lesser degree Tokyo Zombie.
It could just as well be an alien invasion. The plot really doesnt really delve into the aspects of being a zombie film either as a source or horror or parody. It riffs from a basic wide range of comic fantasy films but there is a lack of callbacks to the zombie genre. The zombies here stumble around, can use guns, get turned on for comedic effect, but, eschewing convention, they also die pretty easily, a stab or a gunshot anywhere and they drop.
Zombie Hunter Rika unashamedly deals in cliches, including its cardboard comic characters. Every cult film needs some seedy people, some goofballs, some eye candy, and a kick butt hero/heroine. Where Fujiwara oddly mucks it up is throwing in character deaths that we are supposed feel emotional about. Problem is, the characters are one note and there was no work on the page or from the actors to earn those moments. And, lets say they did flesh them out, the fantasy plotline states that once the big bad is killed everything is reset. So again, death doesn't matter so long as one hero comes through.
Rika's super arm is rigid plastic, the zombie's are mostly gunky latex and some green-gray makeup, and the big bad has a still, expressionless monster mask. That kind of fakeness I can forgive in my silly low budget film, but when the gore and especially the action feel shortchanged I have a problem. Though the super arm graft comes about midway through the movie, Rika really doesn't start kicking butt until the end and fights in less than a handful of scenes. She's no Buffy. Her action is always framed very close or very far away- close with the actual actress, far away for the obvious stunt double. Furthermore, to make up for the lack of impact, they throw in some bad CGI flashes to Rika's hits. This left me twiddling my thumbs instead of having fun.
The DVD: Switchblade Pictures.
Going into the film knowing it was a low budget DV film, I expected the usual subpar quality and problematic source quirks. That said, the Anamorphic Widescreen image is not half bad. I was surprised to find there weren't a lot of artifacts. Sure, it doesn't have great details and the contrast and colors are pretty murky, but I've certainly seen far worse transfers from films with similar production standards.
A basic 2.0 Stereo track features Japanese language with optional English subtitles. The audio is pretty routine, not much separation or dynamism. The fx is fairly stock. Bonus kudos to the subtitlers for their dual use of white and yellow subs and aligning the cast/crew names nicely during the opening credits.
Zombie Hunter Rika is a low budget, direct to video, cult Cuisinart that throws forth a lot of different styles (comedy, horror, fantasy, etc) none of which are as enjoyable as they should be. But, for all of its faults, there is still some decent manic energy. Viewers who've run out of oddball fare to watch might- big might- find the film to be a hazy distraction. The DVD is purely the basics, making this one a casual rental at best.