Friday, October 1, 2010

Vampire Hunter D: Boodlust (Japan, 2000)

The internet is bitchin', ain't it? Absolutely supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Thanks to the world wide web, you can grab a film from the bargain bin somewhere that you know absolutely nothing about and then, after being totally blown away by what you have seen, you can get the full background story with but a few tips on the keyboard.
The flick being spoken of here is Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, pulled from a pile of second hand DVD flotsam because it appeared to be an animated horror film, a genre of which there is hardly a surfeit. Finally finding its way into the DVD player one rainy Berlin day (of which there are sooooo many), the anime that flickered across the TV screen is nothing less than total wowsville. Totally ridiculous, but totally wowsville—and it sent me straight to the web to find out the what, where, when, why, who and how.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a sequel to the 1985 anime Vampire Hunter D (trailer). The two films, in turn, are based on a Japanese franchise comprising of some 21 novels (some of which consist of 4 volumes each) augmented by a short-story collection, manga adaptations, audio releases and the aforementioned two anime flicks. If mostly unknown to the western world (outside of a limited cult circle), the character is indeed extremely popular in the land whence it comes. And if the quality of the franchise can be inferred by this film, then it must be pretty awesome.
Going by the film Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust at least, the series is a sci-fi western steampunk horror fantasy. In approximately 12,090 AD, long after a nuclear war in which the vampires came out on top, the world is a place where science and magic reside side by side and in which people drive fortified trucks (or one-wheel motorcycles) but fight with swords or ninja stars (or magic or guns). The world, co-inhabited by humans, vampires and an endless number of diverse magical creatures and demons, is one in which the biggest problem faced when it comes to something like crossing the sand dunes of a broad dessert, for example, is not a lack of water or the merciless sun, but the gargantuan carnivorous sand mantas gliding through the expanse of dunes in endless schools. Within this world, the "Nobles" (vampires) of yesterday are now on decline due to their own decadence, the continual persistence of humanity, and the appearance of vampire hunters, mercenaries for hire that eliminate supernatural threats.
Vampire Hunter D is one such mercenary, though he seems driven by personal reasons as much as he is by gold: He is a "dhampir", a half-breed son of a human mother and fanged father, looking a handsome 20-something at his tender 5,000 years of age, but as a child of both races he is accepted by neither. Pale skinned and lithe, he has long flowing black hair and is partial to wearing a broad-brimmed and black clothing that is reminiscent of the puritans (and Solomon Kane [2009 / trailer] in particular); his favored mode of transport is bionic black horses and his only true constant companion is his left hand. No, not in the way you might think: The palm of his hand is symbiont, a verbally adroit face of unimaginable magical powers that assists Dunpeal (as D is occasionally called) in his activities as much as it does offer snide and witty banter.
Yep, sounds pretty ridiculous all things considered, and it is, but luckily all the ludicrousness adds up to an engrossing and visually exciting whole. Whatever flaws the narrative itself might have, it never bores and often amazes, and the animation itself is often breathtaking. That director Yoshiaki Kawajiri is considered one of the best anime directors around is not surprising, for his detailed style is amazingly fluid and detailed—from the opening scene of crucifixes melting and water freezing as a demon coach rushes by to the grand final in the majestic castle of the über-vamp Carmilla, the film never stops being a visual amazement.
The plot of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust revolves around D being hired by a rich family to locate their beautiful and beloved daughter Charlotte, who has been kidnapped by the powerful vampire Meier Link. His competition is a quintet of other hunters, and their paths continue to cross throughout the film as they battle a wild array of shape-shifting demons and other powerful monsters. D’s competition ends up being startlingly incompetent considering the power and effectiveness they display in the first two clashes, and by the end of the film the legitimacy of their task becomes highly questionable for what started out as the pursuit of a kidnapped young girl turns out to be the hunting down of a fleeing couple deeply in love. But then, the lines of what or who is good and evil are often less than clear in the movie...
Needless to say, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is not the type of film to be shown in a double feature with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937 / trailer) or Toy Story (1995 / trailer) or any other Walt Disney, Pixel or kiddy animation film. It is very much an adult film—or at least adolescent—and was even saddled with an R-rating during its extremely short cinematic release. So pop this one in after you’ve given the kiddies their nightly sleeping pill and enjoy it for what it is: a beautiful, action-packed, violent, and engrossing ocular treat—a film truly worth watching.

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