Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)


Blood: The Last Vampire
Sailor Moon, eat your heart out!

(Goldwyn) Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Masiela Lusha, JJ Field, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham, Yasuaki Kurata, Larry Lamb, Andrew Pleavin, Michael Byrne, Colin Salmon. Directed by Chris Nahon

Count me as an admirer of Japanese anime. I enjoy the imaginative worlds created by Japanese animators, as well as the detailed artwork. I also know that there are some faults with the genre overall, with underdeveloped characters and juvenile plots more the norm than the exception. Blood: The Last Vampire started out as an anime back in 2000 and now makes its way to the live action medium.

Saya (Jun) is a demon hunter. Demons have existed hidden on this earth for thousands of year, ever since their most lethal Demon lord Onegin (Koyuki) won an ancient war. However, there have been demon hunters, those who have take out the evil creatures with katana, Japanese swords. Saya’s own father was murdered by Onegin, leaving her in the care of Kato, a respected swordmaster.

However, Saya isn’t just your ordinary demon hunter, oh no. She’s half-vampire, with all the strength and skills that a vampire possesses, but able to walk about in daylight. And about her father? He died 400 years ago and she’s been searching for Onegin ever since. That’s a long time to be pissed off at someone but nobody ever said a woman couldn’t hold a grudge.

These days (or at least circa 1970 when the movie is set) she works for a shadowy agency called The Council who seem to be mostly American. When she kills a demon (as she does on a subway train to open up the movie), they’re the ones who clean up the mess afterwards. Her contact there is a terse ex-CIA operative named Michael (Cunningham) who hands out her assignments.

Her latest one has her undercover at an American naval base school to investigate a rash of vampire killings. She makes friends with Alice McKee (Miller), daughter of the base’s commanding officer General McKee (Lamb) – although why a general would be in command of a naval base is beyond me. Still, Alice runs afoul of a trio of schoolgirls who turn out to be vampires, until Saya saves the day.

In fact, it turns out that the base is full of demons, as is the surrounding town and Saya has her hands full, not only keeping Alice alive but trying to avoid being caught up in Council politics – all with Onegin hovering in the background.

I am not only a fan of anime but also of martial arts movies, and there are plenty of nifty fight scenes here. In fact, if action’s your thing, you’re going to love this movie because it’s essentially non-stop battles, chases and fights. There’s a whole lot of gore, and the seductive sexiness that only comes from a lithe Japanese schoolgirl in a sailor costume.

Unfortunately, the faults that are part of Japanese anime – a lack of solid, realistic characterization and mindless plots – rear their ugly heads here. Other than Saya, most of the characters here are one-dimensional clichés that don’t act in the same manner real people would act, and spout off grade B dialogue in a wooden manner. Some would call this cartoonish, although I think that there are plenty of cartoons that escape this trap.

Jun is one of the best parts of this movie. Alone of all the characters, she has some depth and a little bit of humanity, which is awfully strange to say about a character that’s half-vampire. She has an emotional center that Jun gets across in a way consistent with the character, and it works. I suspect that with a better script, she’d be a candidate for stardom along the lines of a Michelle Yeoh or a Gong Li.

There are an awful lot of special effects here, from wirework actors flying about the air like mosquitoes and demon blood spurting out of wounds like raspberry jam out of a jelly doughnut. The demons in demon form aren’t particularly scary and there are a lot of CGI effects that look about ten years out of date, and for videogames at that.

There isn’t a ton of things to recommend the movie other than the action sequences and Jun, but for those who like that sort of thing this movie is going to be your new best friend. For the rest of us, I can’t help but think that if the filmmakers had just put a little more effort into this it could have been a rather decent movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Some fun action sequences and great wire work. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The characterization is non-existent, the special effects are weak and one gets the sense that the film’s reach exceeded the budget’s grasp.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of blood – not all of it human but nonetheless – and flying body parts, as well as some relatively non-scary demonic sorts. Not for the young kids but should be okay for most teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producer Bill Kong of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a huge fan of the anime and picked up the rights to make a live action version to be directed by Ronnie Yu. When Pathe, the French distribution company became involved, Yu was kicked upstairs to a producer’s credit and Nahon got the directing chair.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.9M on an unreported production budget; I’m guessing the movie either broke even or lost money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Day Five of Six Days of Darkness.