Japan (2009) Dir. Ten Shimoyama
While this film is about vampires it is not to be mistaken for the live action adaptation of the classic anime Blood: The Last Vampire – not that such folly would occur since the two films are vastly different in just about every aspect.
In the Edo period of Japan, a dying swordsman (Jun Kaname) is approached by a mysterious woman who gives him some of her blood. Fast forward to the present day and police Detective Hoshino (Kanji Tsuda) is assigned the job of closing a murder case of young housemaid that occurred 14 years ago.
He travels to the mansion of reclusive Miyako Rozmberk (Aya Sugimoto) who tells Hoshino the real culprit is a wealthy businessman named Ukyo Kuronuma (Kaname). Hoshino goes to investigate Ukyo but is attacked, saved by Miyako’s mute servant Brigitte (Sayo Yamaguchi) and spared death by Miyako feeding him her blood, turning him into a vampire.
Director Ten Shimoyama was the man behind 2008’s Shinobi – Heart Under Blade a fun and intense fantasy period drama. Blood is pretty much everything Shinobi isn’t. The pace is slow even for an 85 minute outing while the script by Shigenori Takechi tries to inject a philosophical approach towards the subject of immortality but doesn’t quite have the confidence to achieve it.
Because the run time is padded out with two sex scenes and a couple of big fights, we are left to assume the original story was too short for a full length film script. The characters are also dreadfully underwritten and underdeveloped, devoid of any signs of personality, charm or emotional connection for the audience. Even calling them a cliché would be a compliment.
Ukyo is a villain about whom we know nothing aside from the Edo period set prologue that proffers a small clue as to what his fate was post opening credits. He has money and connections but how he manages these operations of where his wealth came from is never explored. Ukyo also isn’t a traditional vampire insofar as he prefers to cut the throats of his victims before feasting on their blood.
Presumably this is a side effect of gaining immortality via imbibing a vampire’s blood rather than through the classic biting method, something Hoshino later experiences when Miyako saves his life. Unlike Miyako, Hoshino can walk about in daylight and doesn’t seem to have inherited any improved physical strength but his immunity to injury has increased beyond usual human levels.
At the centre of everything is Miyako, a vamp in every sense of the word. Softly spoken, gracious and a MILF for the ages, she is never less than immaculate in her appearance yet there is a pervasive coldness about her. She reveals to Hoshino that she and Ukyo were a couple but her need to feed on other males’ blood made Ukyo jealous so he split up with her but still believes he should be the only man in Miyako’s life.
Yup, Ukyo is a bad boy through jealousy. Is this enough to drive a whole film plot? Sadly not but it is what Shimoyama is given to work with, so the fact he got 85 minutes out of this is quite remarkable. As mentioned earlier the script has big ideas on exploring the value of immortality and the bonds of blood but this amounts to drearily exchanged conversations that go nowhere.
The idea Takechi tries to present is whether true love is achievable through immortality or is it just lust that will never abate? And if one wants love but has to suffice with the fleeting sensation of lust, what future do they have if there is no end? It might sound ideal in theory but for Ukyo and Hoshino, they begin to wonder if it isn’t a recipe for tragedy.
Instead, to make this more exciting for the viewer Hoshino and Miyako’s growing bond is charted via the bedroom, in two erotic and energetic scenes of rumpy pumpy, designed to show how far under Miyako’s spell Hoshino has fallen and how much she needs his lust. The blue backlight and use of thin curtains is supposed to be gothic but instead recalls a cheap 80’s soft core veneer.
The fight scenes, handled initially by Brigitte – the mute maid who speaks telepathically through her heart after drinking Miyako’s blood – then later Hoshino against Ukyo and his henchman (Satoshi Matsuda) are tightly choreographed affairs, if a little repetitive, but the reliance of wire flying does more harm than good.
Despite a low budget the film is superbly shot and looks much better than it should for such a cheap film. The prologue sets expectations high as to the standard of the production values which are then exposed after the opening credits role, but the effort is there and could have been far worse without this earnest approach.
With such a dour and lacking script the cast aren’t given much to work with, and with the quiet and thoughtful discursive style enforced upon them, the dialogue is delivered with a lack of energy and passion. The male leads Jun Kaname and Kanji Tsuda aren’t given enough to make their characters even remotely interesting which is reflected in their performances.
So it befalls to Aya Sugimoto to save this film which she almost does. A former J-pop idol in the 80’s she is now known for her erotic acting endeavours and for famously divorcing her husband for the lack of bedroom action in their marriage! At 41 when this film was made Sugimoto is in fine form, putting girls half her age to shame, and is literally the most appealing thing about this whole film.
In the hands of more experienced writer Blood could have worked as a different take on vampirism instead of the dull and unfulfilling affair it is. Director Simoyama does his best but the concept cries out for a higher budget and a committed focus to its cause.