Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Higanjima – Escape from Vampire Island – review

Director: Tae-gyun Kim

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

Do you like anime? If the answer is yes then there is a good chance you’ll like Higanjima. If the answer is no then I’d look elsewhere as this really is taking a manga and putting it into a live action format. The front of the DVD quotes Twitchfilm whose review claimed it to be “Kinetic and enormously bloody…” Kinetic it certainly is, and that is a great descriptor, but enormously bloody? Yes, it has a fair amount of blood but compared to the likes of Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl this is almost in the blood-spatter amateur ranks. Everything, of course, is relative.

Dai Watanabe as Atsushi
The film starts with a man running through woods, he is being pursued and is bleeding. He reaches a temple and enters it complaining through gasps of exertion that the woman tricked him into coming to the island. Two vampires attack when one is pierced through the head by two arrows. The man who has come to the rescue, Atsushi (Dai Watanabe), smashes the vampires’ heads with a log. The man is grateful but can smell Atsushi’s blood – he is infected. He suddenly dies and immediately turns, Atsushi smashes his head too. He is suddenly faced with a white skinned vampire, Miyabi (Kôji Yamamoto). We cut scene.

Asami Mizukawa as Rei
We meet Akira (Hideo Ishiguro) as he rescues a puppy and shows it to his friend Pon (Fumito Moriwaka). A gang shout him down and the leader accuses him of ditching his sister – Akira is confused. The resultant chase introduces us to all Akira’s friends; Nishiyama (Osamu Adachi), Kato (Masaya Handa), Yuki (Miori Takimoto) and Ken (Tomohisa Yuge). If the friends seem to be caricatures it is because they are, purposefully it seems, as though they have stepped out of a manga and onto the screen. Akira is rescued by a mysterious woman – Rei (Asami Mizukawa), she gives him Atsushi’s i.d.

Motoki Fukami as Raiki
Atsushi is Akira’s brother and vanished two years ago. The loss of the eldest son has turned his father into a drunken wreck who has lost Akira’s college money. Akira goes to meet Rei and sees her paying off the gang then a man, Raiki (Motoki Fukami), comes over and slaps her. They follow the two to a warehouse where the green-skinned man feeds on a captive girl. He ends up attacking Akira and the gang but is eventually speared through the chest by a forklift truck driven by Rei, who then smashes his head. She explains that she is forced to bring humans to her home island, Higanjima – an island not on the maps. Atsushi is fighting the vampires who have taken the island over; most of the villagers are turned.

vampire horde
Of course, despite their protests – and Ken’s general distrust of Rei – the others go with Akira to the island, a mysterious mist shrouded place that is an area where the needle of a compass spins round. They arrive at night, and though no one suggests they wait until it is light, it has to be pointed out that these vampires do go out in daylight. They walk through a seemingly deserted village and are suddenly surrounded – Rei sneaks off and they believe she has betrayed them. They are captured for the larder.

Kôji Yamamoto as Miyabi
We see Rei return to Miyabi and realise that she acts out of self-preservation, even sleeping with the master vampire despite her loathing of him. The reason the vampires knew they were coming was down to Raiki, who survived the attack, thus his brain must not have been destroyed – which seems the key element remove head, destroy brain. Rei is an ‘improved’ vampire, whose arm detached to reveal a blade. Miyabi has a vampire scientist experimenting on victims in order that he might improve the vampire race.

Miyabi feeds on Ryoko
So escape, dissension in the ranks, finding Atsushi and a rebel enclave – they are all the order of the day. Despite a nearly two hour running time – that could have been trimmed – there are some missing story elements. We discover that Atsushi’s girlfriend Ryoko (Ayaka Omura) came from the island. They visited it and Atsushi explored a forbidden temple, releasing Miyabi who was trapped there. Ryoko was his first meal. In the temple is an old photo that shows Miyabi amongst a group and that includes a giant of a man with a mask. He seems to be the rebel leader but we do not know who, or what, he is.

flying vampire
The vampire lore is sparse. Miyabi is an a-typical Japanese anime style vampire, even having a fan blade to fight with. It takes exposure to a vampire’s blood to turn – biting alone won’t do it. There is a flying harpy which takes the form, at other times, as on old woman vampire. There is also a gargoyle creature that is massive and is cgi created and, truthfully, I could have lived without.

creepy-ass vampire doll
Talking of cgi, the majority of blood is cgi rather than physical but, in the main, it works quite well. The creature was a bit much and there were a couple of explosions that looked terrible. However, in the main, the effects worked well. Characterisation relies a little too much on stereotyped tropes but this is an anime brought to life. The acting is over the top and whilst the film could have been edited down in length, in honesty it still manages to belt along at a fair old pace. I thoroughly enjoyed this, despite some obvious flaws, and ultimately you want to enjoy a film when you watch it. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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