This epic-length (two hours and twenty minutes) Sion Sono joint is a cut-together version of a miniseries available in bite-sized chunks on Amazon Prime. In any version, it’s a peculiar beast – entertaining, but also overwhelming … garish and gory in equal measures … played mostly in shrieking hysterics and tracking shots along corridors filled with violence … with an apocalyptic, crowded plot that’s actually a B-to with a flashback thread involving the relationship of two girls destined to be on opposite sides in a big vampire civil war that shoulders the emotional weight of it all.
The first sequence (episode) takes place mostly on the gaudy neon-lit streets of the Shinjuku District in near-future Tokyo (2021), as innocent Manami (Ami Tomite) turns up to meet her destiny in a restaurant which is invaded by a mad professional murderess who monologues during a massacre of dozens of diners. Into this bloody mess comes K (Kako), a hip vampire girl with a couple of assassin babe sidekicks, who hauls Manami off – eventually to the Requiem Hotel, where we spend the rest of the movie underground in a bunker that looks like a kids’ TV show set with a herd of especially-chosen young folk who are required to breed blood donors for vampires who intend to stay down here for a hundred years while the world above is levelled by an apparent nuclear holocaust. Manami, one of three humans dosed with Dracula blood in infancy, has psychic flashes, goes mad and shaves her head (badly), is on the outs with her weird fake parents and bounces around between vampire clans … with the hint that the other two chosen ones might show up in later seasons of the series. Episode Two is mostly flashback – but the rest of the action is claustrophibically confined to the hotel, which looks like Salo by way of a pachinko parlour.
The dominant vampire faction is the Corvin Family, which includes Elizabeth Bathory (Megumi Kagurazaka – less Hungarian than the Countess is usually taken to be), a shrunken-bodied Empress (Yumi Adachi) and capering Joker-like loon Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsumisha) – who has been handed over to vampires by his father, the Prime Minister of Japan, in return for political advancement. K is out to get Manami and her special blood to a deeper-underground offshoot of the deposed Dracula Clan so they can regain control of the undead, though it’s hard to see how this would make any difference. As part of her plan, K encourages the young humans – who resemble the bewildered rejects from some reality TV hook-up show – to take weapons off the walls (they’ve been hung there for fun) and take the fight to vampires, who can here be killed by a bullet to the brain (like zombies?) as well as a stake through the heart and the old favourite decapitation. In flashbacks set and shot in Romania, a pre-vampire K and her friend Noa (Ami Fukuda) learn a mantra-like song (‘I wanted to fall in love with you when the sky was bluest’) and are drawn to ancient mysteries and transformed – this, rather than the three-way vampire-vampire-human war, is the lifeblood of the story. Some of the locations are familiar from a whole run of recent vampire films – it’s the castle from Transylmania! – but Sono finds a few unusual, out-of-the-way places – establishing the underground theme of the film in tunnels bored through strata of glassy salt.
At some moments, especially in an orgy of vampire-abuse and execution that finds the supposed good guy humans reduced to maniacal rapists who wave severed heads on sticks, I was reminded of the stately, gloomy, political 1970 German Dracula variant Jonathan. At others, I flashed back to cheap, quick Charles Band product like the SubSpecies and Decadent Evil films, with their weird puppetry, Romanian location shoots, soapy vampire squabbles and broad strokes characterisations. It’s more together than Takashi Miike’s vampire-themed Yakuza Apocalypse, but you still have to gop with a lot of busy distraction and hysteria to appreciate tiny affecting fillips – though it does have its splashes of pulpy magic too.