Sufficiently entertaining, but just so, Blood: the Last Vampire relies heavily on its production pedigree and its existing anime franchise to promote its vampire adventure. Renowned producer Bill Kong—responsible for such sumptuously mounted vehicles as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; House of Flying Daggers; Curse of the Golden Flower; and Lust, Caution—teams up with director Chris Nahon (Kiss of the Dragon) for this English language adaptation of the popular award-winning anime film of the same title by Production I.G., released worldwide in 2000, and directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo (the key animator for Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira). The story is set in Japan during the fall of 1966, when the United States involvement in Vietnam has turned into a full-scale conflict. A stunning 16-year-old girl named Saya, wearing seifuku and armed with her katana, is sent by a mysterious "organization" to hunt down vampires that are hiding amongst the inhabitants of the Yokota U.S. Air Force Base, a small American enclave 30 km from Tokyo. Saya's youthful exterior hides the tormented soul of a 400-year-old "halfling."
Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence; The Sky Crawlers) served as the Visual Concept Director of the original anime film, and created a light novel in Japan in October 2000, entitled Blood: The Last Vampire: Night of the Beasts. The novel was published in English in North America in 2005. A single-volume manga sequel, Blood: The Last Vampire 2000 written by Benkyo Tamaoki, was published in Japan in 2001 by Kadokawa Shoten, and in English by Viz Media in November 2002 with the title slightly modified to Blood: The Last Vampire 2002. Three Japanese light novel adaptations of the series have also been released, along with a video game. In 2005, Sony and Production I.G. announced the creation of Blood+, a 50-episode anime television series. Considered an alternate universe telling of Blood: The Last Vampire, it has only minor connections and similarities to the film. Blood+ premiered in Japan on October 8, 2005 on MBS/TBS and aired until September 23, 2006.
In the filmic adaptation of this ongoing lineage, Blood: The Last Vampire is given a full-blown billowing robes and startle editing treatment. Eschewing the over-the-top (and fun!) histrionics of Tokyo Shock, Blood caters to beauty instead, which—though admittedly visually arresting—results in a vampire story rendered somewhat anemic for being exhaustively sumptuous. Following the original anime's basic premise, Saya (played by kickass Korean actress Gianna) is a "halfling", born from a human father and a vampire mother. For centuries she has been a loner, obsessed with using her samurai skills to rid the world of vampires, all the while knowing that she herself can survive only on blood like those she hunts. When she is sent to an American military base in Tokyo by The Council, a clandestine organization for whom she works, Saya immediately senses that this may be her opportunity to finally destroy Onigen (Japanese model and actress Koyuki), the evil matriarch of all vampires. Using her superhuman strength and her sword, Saya begins to rid the base of its evil infestation in a series of spectacular and elaborate showdowns staged by famed action director Corey Yuen (X-Men; Kiss of the Dragon; The One). However, it is not until she forms her first human friendship in centuries with Alice (Allison Miller), the young daughter of the base's general, that Saya learns her greatest power over Onigen may well be her ability to make a human connection. Or so the press notes claim.
Twitch teammate Stefan's admirably polite review asks: "But seriously, do we need another half-vampire, half-human hybrid being for the big screen, even though this has anime roots?" Like myself, he tried really hard to find redeeming factors for the film, and we both favored the same scene: "What I thoroughly enjoyed," he writes, "even if it was rather old school and done countless of times, is the ninja attack set in a leafy forest. Execution was swift, with a real sense of peril, up until the point Saya enters the picture, without which it was a treat to see her guardian and trainer Kato (Yasuaki Kurata) take on a hooded army relying heavily on cunning and trickery." Also at Twitch, is an interview with producer Kong by guest contributor Diva Velez.
Fangoria's Michael Gingold, on the other hand, is unsparing in his objection to Nahon's adaptation, writing that the film has no tangible joy, only a "wearying sense of a filmmaking team desperate to cash in on a marketable title." Saya's human sidekick, a nurse in the original, has shifted to a general's daughter in this film and Gingold characterizes her as "an obvious sop to making this film more accessible to the American youth audience." He wonders why producer Kong—who has done "just fine Stateside without any Caucasian faces"—should elect to do so in Blood? Complaining that the film has paid more attention "to camera filters than to story, character or basic coherence", Gingold likewise objects to the slice-and-dice editing that obfuscates Yuen's trademark action choreography "to the point where you can't follow what's going on and quickly cease to care." Peter DeBruge concurs at Variety: "[W]hile Yuen orchestrates at least four noteworthy confrontations, Nahon's longtime editor Marco Cave seems unfamiliar with Asian action sensibilities, reducing all but one of the fight scenes into a flurry of cuts."
Equally distracting is the globular computer-generated blood shed by Saya's sword, which—as Gingold points out—"is nonetheless not quite as phony-looking as the digital monster that fights the heroine through a series of setpieces"; a winged demon monster that DeBruge describes as "rendered in herky-jerky CG, as if in tribute to stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen." If only the homage had been conscious and the setpieces less derivative of Underworld:Evolution, Blade, and many others which fans of the genre can make a sport of identifying. In yet a further bit of derivative marketing, the film's byline—"Now that she's here, there will be blood"—doesn't promise that now that she's here, there will be a very good movie. Ah well. Better luck next life.
Blood: The Last Vampire opens this evening, July 10 at the Metreon in San Francisco, and Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Cross-published on Twitch.