The Resurrection of Vampire Hunter D Part II: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

by Mike Toole,

Yoshiaki Kawajiri needs little introduction – his action films like Ninja Scroll and Wicked City are burned into the minds of any anime fan who encountered them over the years, his unmistakable visual style and penchant for extreme violence and high-energy fights having made an indelible mark on Western anime fans. His film, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, remains in the popular consciousness, having perfectly distilled the kind of lush gothic horror-romance imagery people associate with classic vampires in popular culture. We asked Kawajiri what his thoughts were on bringing D back from the grave once more.

Mike Toole: When it comes to directing action anime for western audiences, you seem to be the go-to guy. Any theories on how that happened? Do you find satisfaction in being one of the few anime directors with a good handle on what international audiences want?

This film is produced with the support of a large staff. The director's most important job is to convey his vision to the staff. Since there is no “right or wrong” when it comes to my vision, I will continue to be very confident in conveying it to the staff. That leads to the staff having confidence in me.

At the same time, I have been incessantly thinking how I could convey to the audience what I felt interesting, through the work. If it has led me to such an evaluation, I feel honored.

15 years ago, you directed Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. What has changed for you since then? Are you approaching this new project with a similar aesthetic in mind, or are you ready to try something new?

While nothing has changed for me personally – I still want to be involved with as many projects as I can - the progress the digital technology has broaden the possibilities of expression for anime industry. However, there are still a lot of things that we cannot express without the old analog methods. So, I feel that it is best to use a hybrid of the two: analog methods augmented by digital innovation.

Any thoughts on where you'll be starting, in regards to Mr Kikuchi's source material? The original film was based on the first novel, but Bloodlust was based on the third. With more than 25 books to choose from, will you be looking at the earlier material first? Do you have specific criteria in mind, like setting, or what kind of villains you want D to face?

I cannot answer detail because the scale of the project has not been decided, but I hope that I could try “The Rose Princess” and “Mysterious Journey to the North Sea”.

D himself looked very intimidating in Bloodlust, almost alien at times. Mr Kikuchi's prose often touches on that strange mixture of menace and irresistible allure to women that D has. How are you going to try and strike that balance for this new project?

First of all, please don't forget that “D” is a hybrid of human beings and vampires!
As for D's character, I am thinking about following the style of the previous one.

What is it about Vampire Hunter D that's brought you back-- is it fondness for the character, or Mr Kikuchi's setting?

It's because the original story is unique.  It is a combination of gothic horror and science fiction, stuffed with my favorite elements, like big battle scenes with vast varieties of creatures and warriors, beautiful but heartrending romance, scenes inspired by western genre movies, and a gallant protagonist. That stirs up my creative drive.

It's well known that Mr Kikuchi was inspired by the Hammer Horror films to create Vampire Hunter D. Do you also look to other horror films for inspiration? If so, which ones?

Regarding horror films, “The Curse of Frankenstein” and “Horror of Dracula” produced by Hammer Films are what inspired me originally.
Nothing has inspired me other than those films. I like “Underworld”, though.

Have you looked at the new wave of popular vampire media, like Twilight or the Underworld films, for inspiration? Or is this new Vampire Hunter D an answer to these films?

Everyone is inspired by the art they consume in some way. It's natural for a person to analyze and digest them in their own way, and then to reflect them on his/her own works. I consider inspirational works to be a challenge; I hope I can make “Vampire Hunter D” more unique. 

Your screenplay for Bloodlust expanded the scope of the original story, and added a new villain. Will you be doing this for the new Vampire Hunter D as well? When you're adapting Mr Kikuchi's work, as you've done several times now, do you feel driven to add that personal touch?

In order to make the film with the length of several tens of minutes toward both of those who have and have not read the original novel, it will need the adaptation. 

I have already made collaborations with Mr. Kikuchi through many titles. I really appreciate that he always gives me a freedom (to direct)...

Mr Kikuchi's idea of a savage human frontier overtaking a decaying vampire civilization is certainly compelling. What kind of new images from Kikuchi's books can fans expect to see onscreen?

That's a difficult question, one I'm hoping to ask myself. But, I want to create images beyond what you've already seen, what you might expect.

Why do you think that Mr Kikuchi's stories and the character of D remain so popular, both inside and outside of Japan?

That's because once you read the books, you can't help but be attracted to D!

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