Most empathetically not to be confused with the similarly titled and themed Hollywood anime rehash “Blood – the Last Vampire” is “Blood”, an erotic vampire outing from “Shinobi” director Shimoyama Ten. The film stars actress Sugimoto Aya of “Flower and Snake” fame in the lead as a seductive vampiress, which should give fans a pretty good idea of what to expect. With support from Tsuda Kanji (“Ju-on: The Grudge”) and Kaname Jun (“Casshern”) as the two males vying for her affections, the film effectively mixes sex, intrigue and plenty of neck biting in a way which recalls the gloriously baroque and erotically charged European vampire films of the 1970s more than modern Asian horror, a fact which should make it an interesting proposition indeed for fans of the form.
The film begins with Detective Hoshino (Tsuda Kanji), who specialises in long open unsolved cases, travelling to the mansion of the reclusive Miyako (Sugimoto Aya) to investigate the murder of a maid at a house she previously owned some years back. Surprisingly, the sexy siren not only flutters her eyelashes at the understandably smitten man, but also informs him that she knows the identity of the murder, a man called Ukyo (Kaname Jun). Hoshino tracks him down, and upon finding him is shocked to catch him in the act of biting a chained up girl on the neck. When Ukyo discovers that Miyako had set the detective on his trail, he reveals that he himself is a vampire, having been a swordsman bitten by her back in the Edo period, setting in motion a battle between the two to take prime position in her heart and bed.
“Blood” is in many ways quite an odd mixture of different cinematic elements. Visually, the film combines modern minimalist bondage décor with 1980s style blue lighting and fog, and even a touch of gothic atmospherics. Many of the sets are cold and sparse, and this does give the proceedings an almost theatrical air at times, which serves well to underpin both its dramatic and more visceral aspects. Ten directs with a reasonable amount of flair, and though he does go a little heavy on the slow motion at times, the film is creative and does generally look quite striking, often in a charmingly old fashioned manner.
The plot itself is sketchy, though engaging enough, and Ten manages to attain a vaguely epic feel thanks to various flashbacks tracing through the centuries. The characters are similarly offbeat, and the film has a number of odd touches, such as the fact that as well as vampire and ex-swordsman, Ukyo also appears to be a criminal mastermind with a network of corruption – though to what end it is never explained or explored. Although Hoshino is merely a perfunctory protagonist, Miyako makes for an excellent and ambiguous femme fatale figure, keeping the male cast members firmly under her control whilst seeming decidedly detached from their angst ridden struggles. Strangely, the vampire theme is really neither here nor there, as aside from the blood lapping, it really only serves to allow Ukyo to wax lyrical on his possibly tragic lot, frequently lapsing into diatribes revolving around his roaming in eternal darkness and being condemned to endless despair, and other general anecdotes about solitude, the folly of love, and the futility of eternity. All of this is inadvertently very amusing, in a kind of mock emo fashion, and the film is all the more entertaining for at times having the feel of a rather hysterical supernatural soap opera.
All of the above aside, the film’s main attraction is of course its carnal content, and on that level it scores highly, with the gorgeous Sugimoto Aya spending a great deal of the running time unclothed. Most of the sex scenes are shot with a genuine aim at eroticism rather than cheap titillation, and though they dominate the film, they generally avoid feeling gratuitous or tacky. Things do get quite kinky in places, though the film is one of the few from Asia to successfully strike a balance of sorts between sex and horror. There is a fair amount of blood and violence, though apart from a few fairly mild bondage scenes the film rarely strays into sadism or real nastiness.
As a result, “Blood” is far more accessible to the average viewer than it might otherwise have been, and works more as a horror film with erotic elements, than as a piece of cinematic sleaze. Enjoyably overwrought and imaginatively directed, as well as a must see for fans of the statuesque Sugimoto Aya, it offers something a little different to the usual Japanese genre outings.
Ten Shimoyama (director) / Shigenori Takechi (screenplay)
CAST: Aya Sugimoto