Released in 2000, Production I.G.’s Blood: The Last Vampire stands out for its atmospheric visuals, stylish direction, and stunning digital animation. Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo from a tight script written by Kenji Kamiyama (who would later go on to helm the acclaimed Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series), it told the story of Saya, a mysterious katana-wielding girl working for a shadowy organisation tasked with eliminating monstrous, blood-sucking creatures called chiropterans. Despite an intriguing premise and hints of further mysteries to uncover (particularly in regard to its lead character’s true identity), at a mere 45 minutes long, the film leaves much of the underlying mythology unexplored. Ripe material, then, for a remake-adaptation to turn into a feature-length story complete with further word-building and character development? Oh, what could have been…
The live-action adaptation, a Chinese-American co-production released almost a decade later, manages to both double the runtime and halve the quality, not just squandering the potential for expanding the original story, but also ruining everything of value from the original anime. The set-up is the same: sailor-suited vampire Saya is tasked by a secret organisation (here referred to as The Council) to hunt blood-sucking monsters disguised as humans at a US military base in Tokyo. But add to this a new Big Bad (with predictable connection to Saya), grating high school drama, and a tedious revenge plot, and soon anything and everything interesting about this story has been thoroughly buried under six feet of cliché and lazy writing. While Saya’s backstory is elaborated upon, the lack of imagination therein makes the anime’s mystery seem a far superior choice.
If only the script’s sins ended there. Despite being a relatively short feature at only an hour and a half, the film drags, as every scene exists solely as a stepping stone for the next, with no semblance of organic progression. As a result, characters act inexplicably for no reason other than to move the plot along, characterisation is shallow, and new characters such as Saya’s human friend Alice and her father General McKee are completely forgettable. Dialogue is stilted, and the performances don’t fare much better, with otherwise skilled actors such as Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham failing to elevate such poor material.
But so what about the script, this is an action film, right? We’re here for blood and guts and gore! Well, there’s a fair amount of that, but if you’re looking for exciting action sequences, you’d better look elsewhere – the fight scenes in Blood rely heavily on poor CGI and gimmicky camera effects to distract from action that is mediocre at its best. A set piece fight in which Saya defends Alice from hordes of chiropterans lacks any of the tension or excitement of the anime’s warehouse battle, where she fights just two. The ‘horror’ elements of the film fare even worse: the excessive blood splatter is made even more ridiculous by the atrocious CGI that ensures that the matter spurting from the various gruesome wounds looks more like a mass of solid round globules than anything resembling blood. Even worse are the chiropterans: when fully transformed via CGI, the creatures can perhaps best be described as a shapeless blob of poorly-integrated digital imagery; the transformation itself trades in the macabre body horror of the anime for a lazy smoke-and-lights effect.
An action-horror that fails miserably at both action and horror, Blood: The Last Vampire is the kind of film so poor that it’s only redeeming feature is that it is too bland and forgettable to truly hate. Feeling at times like a mash-up of an American spy thriller and a Japanese samurai movie made by people who have never watched either, this feature is an amateurish attempt at a film that achieves little other than making a stylish, if underdeveloped anime short look like a masterpiece.
Blood: The Last Vampire is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray.