Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tokyo Vampire Hotel – season 1 – review

Director: Sion Sono

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

If I just stated “bat sh*t crazy”, would that be review enough for you? I’m guessing not and I have to say that it is crazy in a good way, but crazy nonetheless. Some of the concepts in this are absolutely wonderful and its great to see a series put a “graphic content” warning at the head.

A tad bit of sex (no nudity, but there is quite an explicit moment) but a huge amount of blood and violence – though the effects can be a bit hit and miss with that.

that doesn't work on neo-vampires
There is an opening explanation of the world we are in. There are two primary clans of vampires, the Draculas and the Corvinus, the latter referred to as neo-vampires. I guess neo as they don’t seem to have the same weaknesses. The sunlight aspect of this is a tad confusing – we see at least one member of the Corvinus clan in daylight through this but sunlight does have a devastating effect at the end – but most definitely the Corvinus clan are not affected by religious artefacts, whilst the Draculas are. Centuries before the Draculas were exiled underground and the Corvinus clan remained on the surface world.

celestial alignment
At a point in 1999 the planets and sun aligned into the shape of a cross and prophecy stated that a baby born 9 seconds past 9:09 AM on that day (which is fairly blooming precise, time zones notwithstanding) would save the Dracula clan. Three babies were born at that time in Japan, they were taken by the clan and each was fed a drop of Dracula’s blood. So, we cut forward to 2021 and Manami (Ami Tomite) is going to meet friends to celebrate her birthday. The café is soon under siege by a female warrior who kills three goth girls (neo-vampires, from whom she steals three calling cards) and then slaughters the witnesses (all the patrons, that is) bar Manami. Manami hides as a group of men come in and kill the woman.

Ami Tomite as Manami
Manami runs but is intercepted by K (Kaho) an agent of the Dracula clan. Manami is confused, scared and something is happening to her – the Dracula blood is awakening as the hour of her 22nd birthday approaches. Also after her is Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), one of the top Corvinus Clan vampires and K gives a stark warning that should she be with him when her blood awakens the world will end, but he gets her anyway. In the next episode we get the back story of one of the other Dracula babies and how the clan watched over them – and eventually discover that only Manami survived to 22 – and also how K and her friend Noah were taken, when exchange students in Romania, Noah being taken into the Corvinus Clan and K tossed aside to the Draculas.

Manami feral
The main story, as it kicks in, is that the Corvinus Clan has invited a group of lonely humans with exaggerated hormones (giving them more of a sex drive) to the Requiem hotel. The plan is to trap them there and sit out the aftermath of nuclear devastation that occurs immediately after the humans are lured there. The hotel is run by Yamada and Elizabeth Báthory (Megumi Kagurazaka) on behalf of Elizabeth’s mother, who has shrivelled to a withered, tiny body. The mother needs Manami’s awakened blood to replenish herself. K and two Dracula agents infiltrate the hotel, before it is locked down, to try and rescue Manami and take her (through hidden pathways) to the Dracula clan. We end up with the mortals revolting as K and the agents try and fight off the Corvinus vampires and – having been awakened by the leader of the Dracula clan, through a sex ritual – Manami becomes a feral killing machine.

the empress is also the hotel
And that’s only half of it, but I won’t spoil any more of the core plot. However, I do need to look at the hotel. The Empress (Yumi Adachi) is the aunt of Elizabeth and rather than shrivelling like her sister turned into a hotel. Yup, the Requiem is the Empress. Her upper torso sits at the heart of the hotel and there are (within the walls and yet, maybe, dimensionally distant from us) humans who disappointed the vampires and now feed the hotel in a writhing mass of bodies who stab themselves to let their blood flow. At one point one of these is removed from the wall and fed directly to the empress who seemed to absorb the person directly through the floor below her torso. Ok, there are similar ideas, for instance the film the Girl with Hungry Eyes features an evil hotel that the vampire vicariously feeds, we have a possessed motorbike in I Bought a Vampire Motorbike but for the vampire to turn into the building, the Hellish vision of writhing bodies feeding the hotel, the fact it’s walls can bleed – its madcap and incredibly inventive.

feeding the hotel
There are other moments where lore is handled very interestingly. The humans struggle to hurt the vampires… shooting them might drop them for a moment and get them mad… until K tells them to shoot them in the head. As I was watching her fight with a bow, however, I thought the effects were going a bit splink as the arrows seemed to impale the vampire but clearly missed the torso. Then I realised she was pinning their shadows and she explains to the humans that the shadows are flammable and setting them on fire can severely weaken the vampire - a nice and unusual take on shadow lore. That said, I mentioned the effects, and I thought it was a shame that they used so much physical blood but felt the need to also add in cgi blood splatter (which often looks false). In respect of the effects generally they were often great and then there would be the occasional jarring poorer effect.

Megumi Kagurazaka as Báthory
However, that is a minor gripe. Watching this was a joy but it was a surreal joy and some folks might struggle with that. Its story structure was odd and it did leap ahead at times and expect the audience to go with it. That said, 7.5 out of 10 for one of the most unusual vampire series around at the moment. Note this has also been cut into a 142 minute feature.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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