Blood: The Last Vampire

by Mikhail Koulikov,

Blood: The Last Vampire

Don't Believe...

  Don't believe the title, the advertising, or, for that matter, most other reviews you'll see. This movie has VERY little to do with blood or vampires. Yes, there is a horror OVA at the very core of this Production I.G. feature, but really, what it is about is the very heavy philosophical theme of levels of violence, and the eternal Japanese problem of the (continued) U.S. military presence on the Home Islands. As an OVA, it works admirably; however, precisely because it's an OVA, it isn't suited to theatical release.

   Blood was first announced for U.S. release over a year ago, at Anime North 2000. However, it has only now found its way into theaters. Production I.G.'s trademark hyper-realistic animation combined nearly seamlessly with CG sequences work well to create a sense of place and time. The fact that most of the film takes place at night - the blue sky only appears in what is essentially the epilogue - as well as the relative lack of dialogue give all of what happens an eerie and surreal feel. The fact that the film does not rely on any of the traditional visual language of anime, as well as the grotesque character designs only add to it. Music and sounds are used rarely too, but very effectively; extreme violence set to jazz played by a USAF band tends to force one to look up and wonder at where it's all going.

   In terms of voice acting, most of the English dialogue comes off as flat and forced. However, instead of dubbing the entire movie in English or, alternately, leaving all of it in Japanese, Production I.G. decided to alternate; American characters speak in English (and are presumably subtitled for the Japanese release), while Japanese speech is subtitled for the U.S. theatrical run. While Saya is voiced by Youki Kudoh, who has acted in several major Japanese live-action films as well as the recent American release Snow Falling on Cedars, none of the other English voice actors are in particular famous, but at the same time, none of the characters they voice particularly matter.

   Every few minutes, the flow of the storyline is interrupted by CG of planes taking off - American F-4 fighters, C-5 transports, a B-52. In fact, almost every time the sky is shown, it's crossed by a plane, and the rumble of aircraft engines is heard in almost every single scene. It is only at the very end of the film, after the main storyline has run its course, that we find the meaning of these shots. The beasts we assume to be the "vampires" of the title are nothing more than the embodiment of Japan's passive resistance to the American forces stationed there after the Second World War. And the violence they commit - always against Americans, or those Japanese who serve the Americans - prostitutes and the like - pales to nothingness in comparison with the violence the B-52 taking off just before the ending credits roll is about to bring to some North Vietnamese village or another. The ending credits themselves, fuzzy washed-out film of a WWII-era tank, artillery pieces, explosions, corpses contribute further to forcing the realization: yet again, the pretty and stylized, almost dance-like violence of the film itself is only a pale reflection of what is left unsaid, except in radio reports.

   The bottom line is that since it's only 50 minutes long, watching Blood in a theater is a waste of a good $5, unless you're REALLY a fan of anime in general or Production I.G. stuff in particular. However, once it is released on video or DVD (Manga Entertainment has the license), it will be a worthwhile addition to the recent number of "serious" anime that can hold their own against most Western live action films.

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