Well Go Usa // 2009 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // March 25th, 2011
We wander eternity feasting on the blood of the living.
Sexy samurai vampires are an intriguing idea, and I liked director Ten Shimoyama's Shinobi quite a bit, so I was excited to receive Blood for review. Unfortunately, in trying to have every piece of an erotic martial arts horror film, awesome as that might sound, Shimoyama forgets about story and performances, leaving the film short of its promise. I had fun, but I hoped for a little more than that.
For centuries, vampires have walked the streets of Japan, killing for survival and staying ahead of the law. While investigating the disappearance of a young girl, hotshot police detective Hoshino (Kanji Tsuda, Audition) is tipped off to a woman who might know something. The wealthy and beautiful Miyako (Aya Sugimoto, Flower and Snake) is evasive, but she eventually gives him a name: Ukyo Kuronuma (Jun Kaname, Goemon). This information brings him a little too close to a nest of vampires, who discover him and try to put an end to his meddling. On the brink of death, Miyako arrives to save him, changing him into a vampire just like she did to Ukyo a hundred years before. She is no savior, though; Hoshino has an ancient and powerful bloodline that she has awakened so he can fight a final battle against Ukyo, her former lover.
The film begins with a fantastic sword fight between a samurai and some assassins. It's high octane, fast paced stuff that hearkens back to classic samurai action. It's a great opening scene that set me up for a lot more enjoyment than I actually got. Shimoyama is very adept at the martial arts, no doubt, but when those aren't in play, Blood is a mixed bag. An incomplete story and soapy performances show that the director has more going on in the idea stage than he does during filming.
It's too bad, too, because the director has all the genre elements in place. The sword action is great fun and there's plenty of sex to offset the violence, which is nice and bloody. The film is hollow, though, and doesn't appear to understand that. Writer Shigenori Takechi fills the dialog with statements about morality, loyalty, and crime, something a lot of vampire films do, but the characters aren't fleshed out nearly enough for anything they say to ring true. The story is campy, overcooked, and doesn't lend itself to the type of philosophy he tried to force onto it. The one thing about the story I do like is that Hoshino is saved and turned into a vampire to be an instrument of Miyako. It sets up a decent three way dynamic among Miyako and the two men, who have both been slaves and lovers in her service. Don't expect much more beyond that, though.
Blood does feature an attractive cast, though they were clearly hired for how good they look rather than how well they could act. Purely in terms of appearance, however, the cast is nearly perfect. Aya Sugimoto, a noted actress of Japanese erotic film, takes very well to her vampire seductress role and the two male leads are athletic and well-suited to their fighting task. Even Guts Ishimatsu, a world champion boxer who invented the "guts pose" and was knocked out by Roberto Duran, shows up for about five seconds. That, of course, gets his name on the cover.
When the actors are either fighting or having sex, everything is great; it's when they start talking and storming around rooms that Blood starts to feel like a soap opera, which given its potboiler plot of love and revenge, I guess is basically what it is. That's drawn out even further by Gen Kobayashi's cinematography. He shoots it very well, but there is a softer look to it that makes it seem like a overblown episode of Red Shoe Diaries with samurai instead of naughty secretaries. He shoots the action well and, while some of the effects don't look very good and it runs a little heavy on the wire work, it's good looking and nicely paced.
It looks good on Blu-ray, too. Well Go USA is a label I'm not very familiar with, but they've done a nice job on Blood, even if it is a bare bones affair. The soft, grainy look is intact and any lack of sharpness is intentional. Colors are overall excellent and both black and white levels are great. It isn't the best Hi-Def transfer possible, but it serves its purpose well. The sound mix is also good, with a strong overall mix. My only complaint is that the rear channels are a little light, but the front line makes up for it; it's loud, but nicely balanced and generally excellent. There are no extras.
I can't condemn the film for not living up to the expectations I'd set up for it from the concept. The story is ridiculous, it thinks it's smarter than it really is, the acting is bad, and the whole thing is fairly unbelievable. Still, it's sexy and bloody with plenty of high energy swordplay. It's stupid, but I had fun.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go Usa
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Japanese)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Japanese)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated