Blood - The Last Vampire

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos

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Blood -- The Last Vampire  (2001, Japanese anime; dir: Hiroyuki Kitakubo; scp: Kenji Kamiyama)
 

 

 

I know little of anime, but I am told that schoolgirls are a prevalent theme / imagery. Schoolgirls in cute sailer uniforms and short pleated skirts. One anime buff told me of a series featuring superhero flying schoolgirls who spread their legs and shoot death rays from their vaginas.

Kinda makes the Power Puff Girls look like prudes, but hey, it's a Japanese thing.

Blood -- The Last Vampire isn't as salacious as all that, but it falls into anime's superhero schoolgirl subgenre. Its young heroine, Saya, hunts vampires at a US Air Force base in Japan -- going undercover as a schoolgirl, sailer uniform and all. Despite being a pre-teen girl vampire hunter, Saya's hard-boiled professionalism is closer to La Femme Nikita or Witchblade's Sara Pezzini than to the chipper Buffy. Saya is Lara Croft without Croft's flippancy or smirky attitude. Saya doesn't enjoy her work, she does what needs to be done.

Although some critics regard Saya as too enigmatic and deadpan to interest audiences, I was intrigued by Saya's silent ruthlessness. Still waters run deep. Of the above femmes, Saya is easily the grimmest, the most fatalistic. Saya doesn't care for small talk -- or friends. Unlike Buffy, Saya retorts to a classmate's friendly greeting with a glaring, "Leave me alone."

Saya is The Girl With No Name in a nihilistic spaghetti western (or noodle eastern). Imagine a schoolgirl Lara Croft wearing Clint Eastwood's laconic scowl, silent and cool, ever-ready to draw her weapon. That's Saya.

(At the risk of revealing too much, Saya also bears similarities to the child vampire in Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire.)

 

 

Like most spaghetti westerns, Blood -- The Last Vampire has a simple story. Hunt and destroy vampires. It opens with savagery, and continues bleeding till the end.

An old man is slaughtered on a subway by a sword-wielding hoodlum. We soon learn the hoodlum is a young girl, Saya, the old man a vampire. Saya reports to a pair of government suit types: one white, one black. That's relevant because it's confusing. The subway markings are Japanese, yet these men are clearly not Asian. Are we in Japan or the US? Or maybe in some Blade Runner type future?

Maybe I missed something. It wasn't until I read some program notes that I learned the film is set in 1966 Japan "during the Vietnam War."

 

 

 

Although a pre-teen girl, Saya is a deadly vampire hunter, possessing unique skills. Her quarry is a dwindling race of ancient shape-shifting monsters, morphing from human to reptilian form.  As in Blade, Saya requires a sword for her job, and her swordplay evokes Sandahl Bergman in Conan the Barbarian.

Saya's G-men controllers have tracked the remaining vampires to a US Air Force base. Saya -- in her undercover schoolgirl sailer uniform -- is planted in the base school to identify and destroy the vampire menace. Contributing to the film's dark atmosphere, the kids at the base school are preparing for a Halloween party, which shifts Blood -- The Last Vampire closer to horror anime (as opposed to superhero or sci-fi).

Blood's atmosphere consists of nihilism and noirish fatalism. Saya is not alone in her grim sullenness. So too are her controllers. And the vampires. And the base prostitutes, all aged, ugly, and despairing, their sagging over-painted faces resembling the hooker in Orwell's 1984. (In contrast to the energetic mouthy streetwalkers in most US films). In Blood, the innocent are either destroyed by vampires, or exposed as one.

Appropriate for noir, the film is largely set at night. Or else it's dawn or dusk, a menacing sky smeared blood-red, sulfur-yellow, and soot-gray. A live action shot of a jet fighter -- belching bleary exhaust fumes -- bleeds into the anime. Fumes and soot and dour Asians contribute to a Blade Runner milieu. (Hence, my surprise to learn Blood is set in the past, not the future.)

Blood -- The Last Vampire should be seen not for its plot, but for its resplendent visual artistry, and for Saya. The film ends on a powerful emotional punch, not because the "surprise twist revelation" about Saya surprises us, but because we've already deduced enough to appreciate Saya's dilemma and remain intrigued to learn more.

I saw Blood -- The Last Vampire with a Japanese soundtrack, subtitled in English, but the DVD also has an English language option. At 48 minutes, it's not quite a feature, yet something more than a short.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos

 

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