Longinus (2004) Movie Review

If you look at “Longinus” as nothing more than a slight, “no need to bother” detour for Japanese filmmaker Ryuhei Kitamura, there’s really nothing wrong with it. Of course that still doesn’t mean there’s anything remotely interesting or worthwhile about it, either. In-between what must have been mammoth work on “Godzilla: Final Wars” and the upcoming “Versus 2”, one could see Kitamura taking a week off, retiring to a warehouse with some friends, and then deciding to make a movie on the spur of the moment.

Well, a short movie, anyway. At exactly 35 minutes, “Longinus” isn’t really much of a movie — in terms of length and, unfortunately, story. As with most of Kitamura’s films, style and a singular good idea (a movie premise) takes center stage. In this case, the style is old hat and ratty, like the hero’s clothes, and the story reads like something a 5-year old would write. If that 5-year old was inflicted with a strong case of simplistic idiocy, that is.

The story of “Longinus” takes place in a not too distant future where a neverending war has ravaged the land and caused much misery and death. (Or at least that’s what we’re told, as the film itself is set entirely inside (and, for a brief second or two, outside) a dinky, dark, and wholly nondescript warehouse.) At said warehouse, a nurse and two soldiers say goodbye to the only attending doctor, who dies as the film opens, but not before delivering a droll monologue about life and death, how everything must die, and all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day —

Oh wait, sorry, that’s the lyrics from “California Dreaming”. I’m sorry, that’s very unprofessional of me.

Back to our movie.

After the doctor has been cremated, the warehouse/hospital’s three remaining occupants get ready to be airlifted to another location. Before that can happen, however, they receive company from a small squad of soldiers, led by a tough-as-nails “Commander” strapped with a gigantic sidearm. The squad is carrying a box containing the Spear of Longinus, the mythical weapon that (literally) took a stab at Jesus while he was crucified back in olden times. The squad’s mission: take the spear to their leader. The squad is also carrying a wounded soldier, who as it turns out has been bitten by something fast, with long teeth, and —

You guessed it. Our futuristic tale of love and war (well, mostly talk of war) is actually about vampires. For you see, being the clever critters they are, the vampires mostly stay in the shadows, and only comes out en masse to feed when humans go about killing each other during one of our lapses of sound judgment, i.e. warfare on a global scale. And since this is the war to end all wars, the vampires are having a ball. Or at least that’s what characters keep telling us. In truth, we never really see any of the misery, death, and warfare that everyone keeps jabbering about. In this case, the theory of “show, don’t tell” is nonexistent.

But wait, that’s not the end of our little movie. As it turns out, a mysterious man in ratty clothes (including a ratty, but strangely very stylish trenchcoat) has been following the soldiers. The man claims that a vampire bit the injured soldier, and soon she will become a vampire herself. The vampires, the man helpfully informs our doubting soldiers, wants the Spear of Longinus because it has the power to destroy them.

Never you mind the how’s, why’s, and when’s. They just are, okay?

Moving on…

Since half of the film’s 35 minutes have been taken up with one long dull exposition after another, that only leaves about 10 or so minutes of actual action. And even then there isn’t really all that much action, unfortunately. At one point the soldiers spread out in search of their missing (and now vampiric) comrade, but apparently Kitamura spent most of the budget on catering, because most of the killings take place offscreen. That is, if you count a character screaming and then falling down as “killings”.

Later, the vampire bad guy arrives, and has a duel with the guy in the ratty trenchcoat. Except the guy playing the hero isn’t much of an actor, and apparently isn’t much of a fighter, either, because compared to the action in Kitamura’s previous works, the minor fisticuffs involved in “Longinus” is laughable at best and shamefully embarrassing at worst. A little web-based research lets slip that the hero is played by a popular Japanese pop star, which may account for the stiff acting and zero onscreen charisma. That is, if you consider stray strands of hair falling over one’s eye acting.

Familiar faces from Kitamura’s films populate the rest of the cast, but overall, everyone overacts so much that it’s not worth pointing them out. The woman playing the nurse (who for some reason wears what looks like Victorian-era supermodel clothes, including very stylish pumps) spends most of her time looking dour and not getting involved in the story. Apparently the only reason she even existed at all was to express the script’s juvenile 5th grade level take on life, death, and hope.

Yawn, indeed.

For those used to Kitamura’s oeuvre, “Longinus” can best be described as having all the pretentiousness (re: dull, monotonous, and completely lacking in originality or insight) of “Alive”, and the pointlessness of “Aragami”. In truth, it’s a good thing “Longinus” is only 35 minutes long, as its razor thin story and scrambled new age mumble jumbo are certainly not enough to accommodate a feature length film. Actually, if one were to be brutally honest, “Longinus”, as it currently stands, is probably already 34 minutes too long; anything past the minute mark is just taking up space better spent on another “Twins” movie.

Ryuhei Kitamura (director) / Isao Kiriyama (screenplay)
CAST: Atsushi Sakurai, Kanae Uotani, Yumi Kikuchi

Buy Longinus on DVD