Sony // 2009 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // November 2nd, 2009
Where evil grows, she preys.
The latest attempt at bringing Japanese animation into the realm of live action comes courtesy of Blood: The Last Vampire, based on the somewhat short-ish Production IG animated flick from way back in 2000. Does the live action variety manage to make a compelling film out of what was essentially a TV hour of anime? Or is this one vampire flick that sucks instead of bites.
Blood: The Last Vampire tells the story of Saya (Gianna), a Japanese demon slayer, Samurai, and consummate bad-ass; who happens to be half human and half vampire. Working as a hunter for a shadowy organization referred to only as "The Council," she finds herself on an American Air Force base in Japan in the early 70's. It seems a few demons have been treating the school's student body like a salad bar; and lurking somewhere in the shadows is Onegin, the big enchilada, the Demon responsible for her father's death almost 400 years ago. In between downing milk bottles full of blood; Saya kicks some ass, takes some names, and has a ton of flashbacks.
Studios have been having a bit of trouble converting the most bizarre of artforms that is anime into a live action film worth watching. Past results have been pretty tepid, from the ludicrously embarrassing Fist of the North Star to the sillier than hell Dragon Ball: Evolution. Blood: The Last Vampire gets the first bit right by choosing a property that wasn't completely insane to begin with, and does one better by choosing an anime that wasn't particularly fleshed out either. The original animated film ran less than a full hour, and didn't really give a whole lot of background. This gives the screenwriters here a little bit of room to play with origins and back story. Saya herself is considerably more fleshed out, and the script puts a little more narrative meat on her bones, even if it is Spam or Smeat.
So if you've seen the anime of the same name, you know about half of the story. Demons are loose on an air force base, and Saya goes undercover as a Japanese student, complete with sailor's outfit, to find em and cut em a new one. Along the way she hooks up with a reluctant partner, Alice (Alison Miller, 17 Again), the rebellious daughter of the base's commanding officer. Her "CIA" handlers cover her tracks well enough by cleaning up her messy kills and dealing with the authorities. This is only a small chunk of our tale, and it cribs pretty liberally from the animated version, almost frame by frame in some respects. This stuff occupies the first act of the flick, and once the curtains are opened on act two, everything is changed up.
Blood: The Last Vampire endeavors to give Saya a past, and we're educated with a series of flashbacks that take us to Feudal Japan. These bits tell us the tragic tale of Saya's growing up under the tutelage of her Father's servant, Kato (martial arts master Yasuaki Kurata) and her slow transformation into bad-ass demon slayer. Meanwhile in the 70's, Alice's General Daddy winds up on the wrong end of a dispute with the agents, and she runs to Saya for help. It all leads to a bizarre final confrontation with Saya's nemesis, who's got secrets of her own.
Yes, it is a little convoluted, and the plot essentially exists to string together action scenes in the simplest way possible. To that end, the movie is functional if not completely original. When the action does heat up, particularly where Saya is concerned, it's a little disappointing. I'm not sure how much of a martial arts background our lead actress, the Korean born Gianna, has, but she doesn't really sell the bad-ass persona as her movements look a little stiff and untrained. The best fight scene in the film comes when Yasuki Kurata (as Kato in a flashback sequence) takes on an army of Demon Ninja in a leaf-strewn forest. Kurata is amazing to watch, and the beautifully choreographed battle royale has CG blood and body parts flying everywhere. It brings back memories of Zack Snyder's 300.
All of the combat in the film is accompanied by computer generated carnage and more than a little of the "real" fake blood. It's a gory flick that revels in the bloodletting. It's also shot stylishly, with lots of slow motion and other camera trickery. On the whole, the action, being the chief draw of the flick, works well enough to entertain.
The stylish visuals are transferred well. There's a natural grainy look to the disc, and the colors are saturated and sour, but these effects are deliberate. The disc itself shows no noticeable flaws. The audio is fine as well, with some nice punch in the surrounds and the sub channel. For extras we get two brief featurettes that talk about the making of the film and the stunt work. They're ok for a once over, but it's not what I would call a treasure trove of info.
I won't beat around the bush here, the degree of acting talent on display here falls somewhere between public access cable and Medic-Alert commercials. Outside of Gianna's suitably cold and distant portrayal of Saya, everyone else just sort of hams it up. The worst of the lot are the Americans. Liam Cunningham (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) and Colon Salmon (Resident Evil) do fine when they're on screen. Everyone else is just wretched.
Then there's the special effects...oh boy. Just because you have access to CG, that doesn't mean you should use it. Creatures look laughably bad, and the geysers of gushing blood are painfully rendered. At times it works (the aforementioned Demon Ninja beat down), but more often it's laughable.
Blood: The Last Vampire doesn't quite work as well in live action as it did in animated form, but as a sort of companion piece it adds some much needed depth to the central character. It's worth watching if you're a fan of martial arts flicks, or familiar with the source material. Everyone else can come along for the carnage, and probably won't be too put out.
Guilty? Nah. Let it go.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R