Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sanguivorous – review

Director: Naoki Yoshimoto

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

The DVD suggests that Sanguivorous, also known as Kyuketsu, is an Avant-garde vampire movie from Japan. That is likely to tweak your interest or send you off running. It also suggests that it is a silent movie – that is not entirely true, there is dialogue in the first 10 minutes of the 57 minute running time.

My interest was tweaked – I do like a little bit of avant-garde filmmaking. Unfortunately this didn’t live up to expectation, but I think I know why.

the city
Shot with heavy filters the cinematography is designed to produce mood rather than setting. After an opening that tells us about the "interior world" we see the city, grainy in shot and vibrating to the droning industrial sounds that create the primary soundtrack of the film. Whilst interior could direct us to a journey of the inner self, it also suggest a hollow world and that brought Marebito to mind (though the earlier film is vastly superior).

the bloodied cross
We see a girl (Ayumi Kakizawa) praying in a room, her actual prayer is “eli eli lama sabachthani” (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me). She takes two pills and begins coughing, she coughs blood into her hand, over her cross. In the bathroom she drops the cross into a sink, she looks into the mirror – pressing her fingers against the glass as though she might go through it. I took the illness to be tuberculosis.

bloodied walls
She leaves the house. Dialogue starts, we hear the tale of a vessel carrying the coffin of a 500 year old Romanian vampire that arrived on the shores of Japan. It is a boy telling the girl the story. He suggests that a virgin was taken and ritually deflowered and her blood caught in a grail and poured over the mummified vampire. 40 days later he came to life and killed all those involved in the ritual. The girl was destined, after 300 years, to awaken as a half human and half vampire (through arousal) and all those of her blood would awaken one day and attack humanity. The arrival of the coffin reminded me of the backstory in the Japanese horror film the Bloodthirsty Roses.

boyfriend tied
The inference, of course, is that she is the virgin girl who awakens through the film. The boy shows her talisman’s painted on his skin (to protect from vampirism or her tuberculosis?) and she confides that the doctors suggest her illness is a mild case. He becomes sexual towards her, despite her saying that she is saving her purity. She runs from him having sliced across his stomach with her nails.

the first bite
She hides in, perhaps, a netherworld – I took this to be the inner world mentioned at the head of the film – where there is a vampire woman and vampire man (Ko Murobushi) and the young man enters that world looking for her. What we then get is a procession of images that tell a simple story of her conversion to vampirism, the boy's willing sacrifice of himself, betrayal by the vampire woman (she bites the boy the third time when it is known that the third bite makes the vampire the master of the bitten), all leading ultimately to the girl's self-sacrifice.

Ko Murobushi as the vampire
The story is simple but some of the imagery works really well, especially around Ko Murobushi who is a master of Butoh dance theatre. He seems to be channelling Graff Orlock and the sinewy grace of his movements impart a lot of style into the proceedings. However the stylised filtering over the photography can get a bit much and the film does very little to offer a narrative. Over all it doesn’t work too brilliantly.

led in blood
I said at the head that I thought I knew why and, apparently, the film was first part of a tour that had a live musical accompaniment. The music in that was different to the score on the film, which was new and created by the director. As a mood piece, projected on a back screen to enhance a live musical performance I can see this working. As a piece of cinema it doesn’t work well at all. I did like the connection between vampirism and tuberculosis (if I haven’t read too much in) and the use of the concept of the vampire as outsider (indeed foriegn culture), which underpins the backstory and is juxtaposed against the traditional Butoh dance. 3 out of 10 is given for some of the imagery and Ko Murobushi.

The imdb page is here.

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