Although there is a cult following here in the U.S., I’m no fan of Japanese animation (animé). Some crossover films like Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies, or Final Fantasy are quite respectable. But most of what I’ve seen (Street Fighter or Appleseed for instance) is so adolescent that I can barely watch a few minutes.
Blood: The Last Vampire, which clocks in at under 60 minutes, is not only watchable, it’s not half bad. I can almost understand why there is a cult following of this style of moviemaking.
Grave of the Fireflies, one of the best-respected animé films in America (thanks in part to Roger Ebert's four-star review).
- Documentary on the making of
- Japanese trailer
- Image gallery
Blood can be watched by itself, although it feels like part of a series. (That sense of an ongoing heroic saga seems to be part of the animé genre). It opens with an expository scene that introduces you to this world of vampire hunters and shape-shifting demons, but it never fully explains everything. It hints at a deeper, richer history than is actually presented in the film. Some might find that disorienting, but it’s a nice change from the whack-them-over-the-head obtuseness of American animation.
The story is gripping. Like a good page-turner, it shows you only enough to make you need to know what will happen next.
The film opens in 1966 on a deliberate killing in a Japanese subway train, followed by an on-site debriefing by American government agents. The killer is a girl named Saya, whose youth has more to do with her appearance than with her weary, dutiful demeanor.
The involvement of the American operatives with the Japanese demonslayer gives an odd sense of tension — an unwilling cooperation between two cultures that don’t really understand each other. One wonders if the rapes in Okinawa didn’t inspire this film in some way.
There are some impressive computer-animation tricks in Blood — shallow focus, helicopter shots, an impressive crane shot — that add an extra dash of interest to the movie. And although these computer scenes clash with the hand-drawn style of the characters themselves, it feels more like naivete than error.
The color scheme is carefully controlled, adding gut-level emotional impact. Most of the film is set at night or under gray clouds. The film is all grays and browns and reds. One doesn’t realize what an effect the color has until the end of the film, when the sky clears and the vivid cheerful blue lets the tension and danger slip away.
Blood is no masterpiece. It’s probably not even as good as I make it out to be. But low expectations can make a masterpiece out of just about anything. Blood took me by surprise with its look, its setting, and its pace. But maybe the best thing about Blood: The Last Vampire is that it’s only 60 minutes long.