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Review: ZVP

[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.]

I somehow missed Junya Okabe’s ZVP when it was originally released on YouTube way back in 2017, which feels like an unforgivable oversight on my part—after all, it appears to have been created specifically to appeal to my peculiar cinematic sensibilities. I absolutely adore this flavor of fan film; a less explicitly mercenary variety of unlicensed adaptation, it scratches the same itch as a decently trashy rip-off or mockbuster (à la Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins) without the moral stain of being a cynical cash grab. It’s a purer breed of “derivative work,” motivated not by greed, but by genuine affection for the source material.

And that love certainly shines through in this ambitious crossover between the Zatoichi and Predator franchises—an epic mashup that positions it as a spiritual successor to Sandy Collora’s seminal Batman: Dead End. Despite the obviously limited resources at his disposal, the director demonstrates remarkable technical proficiency and command of his craft: the cinematography, fight choreography, and even sound mixing perfectly capture the style and atmosphere of a classic chanbara flick—with a few comparatively fanciful flourishes thrown in for good measure (some of the more fantastical costumes, for example, draw clear inspiration from the tokusatsu genre and shonen anime). The color grading is particularly impressive—not quite monochrome, but extremely desaturated, evoking the faded hand-painted imagery found in many early silent movies (appropriate, considering the general absence of audible dialogue throughout the piece).

It isn’t a flawless experience. The choppiness of the minimalistic narrative—which initially features a coherent (albeit fragmentary) plot before gradually evolving into something closer to a fake trailer or sizzle reel (reminiscent of Collora’s World’s Finest)—comes across as an admission of defeat, surrendering to the harsh realities of budgetary restrictions. Insufficient running time might also be to blame; clocking in at a lean eight minutes, the short simply lacks enough breathing room to develop the story beyond a basic premise—inevitably leaving the viewer ravenous for more.

Regardless of these superficial blemishes, however, the sheer talent on display—the exquisite production design, the spectacular VFX, the magnificent performances (especially the one delivered by the actor portraying the iconic blind swordsman, who respectfully avoids attempting to mimic the inimitable Shintaro Katsu)—ultimately redeems and elevates ZVP. Don’t call it a "guilty" pleasure; this is the quintessential passion project—and its unapologetic enthusiasm for its pulpy subject matter is irresistibly infectious.

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