Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Blood (2009)

BloodA police detective finds himself running with creatures of the night while investigating a gruesome murder. Detective Hoshino questions the former employer of a slain maid's unsolved murder, an ethereal seductress named Miyako Rozmberk (Aya Sugimoto), in hopes of landing a solid lead before the statute of limitations runs out. Miyako takes an interest in the detective, this due to a unique quality present in his blood which only a few possess, so she feeds him clues as to who the murderer is. When Miyako's tip leads Detective Hoshino to Ukyo Kuronuma, a ruthless yakuza overlord, the fact that Ukyo is found attempting to feast on a terrified, bound, naked young girl would indicate that he was indeed the killer. But shortly after learning that Ukyo is in fact the famed shogunate-era swordsman Okita, who has been transformed into a vampire by the powerful and ageless Miyako, Detective Hoshino, too becomes born-again (and not in a Christian sense) as a deathless bloodsucker, again thanks to Miyako. As history would have it, she and Ukyo are former lovers,but his propensity for violence and cruelty were too much for her refined elegance. Later, when Miyako's loyal female servant wages a vicious fight to remain her one and only companion, Detective Hoshino realizes that even in death, the struggle for survival never ceases. And sometimes, depending on the individual, isn't even worth the effort...

A cross between 'Versus', 'Shinobi' and 'Countess Dracula', this little flick has much going for it action, blood, vamps, yakuzas, swordplay, nudity, a seductive yet visceral style, and the gorgeous Aya Sugimoto ('Flower and Snake', 'Flower and Snake 2') who gets more beautiful as she ages, much like her character here. Though nothing complex, it's an enjoyable ride and worth investigating if you're into any of the items mentioned above. Hell, its head and shoulders better than any of that 'Twilight' tripe, I assure you. It's in Japanese with English subtitles, which will avert a segment of potential viewers like a crucifix would a vampire, but it's not too wordy so those challenged by a basic requisite like reading shouldn't be put off, it's worth the effort. (I'm not railing against anybody here when I say this, but all too often, people ask me if a movie's dubbed or not, and won't consider watching if it's subtitled. You tend to cut yourself off from things you'd otherwise enjoy by doing this, IMHO.). Sink your teeth into this one and you just might draw some 'Blood'.

Most people are familiar with the Anne Rice version of what a vampire is, or more recently, "Underworld." This is not that kind of vampire movie. While it does rely heavily on very seductive qualities, the story itself keeps you into the movie for the duration. That being said, this is a very adult movie...at times, seeming like a Japanese Vampire Softcore. The lead actress, Aya Sugimoto, is (pardon the phrase) drop-dead gorgeous! And she plays her role extremely convincingly. The male leads are shared by two equally handsome men that look as if they could have been plucked straight from an anime series.

The story and pace of "Blood" is very even throughout. But there were times when I was hoping for some more history and details that link the Edo period to present day, and regarding where Miyako (Sugimoto) came from, or how she came to be the vampire/temptress that consumes her existence (as far as the film is concerned, she just "is"). Treating this as a comparison to any other vampire film would be a mistake. This movie takes on a fairly emotional love story more than horror or thriller. I say that kind of tongue-in-cheek the way that "House of Flying Daggers" is a love story. You do FEEL for all the characters, but when the action scenes take place, the emotions feel slightly jarred and put on pause. All things considered though, it is an exceptional love triangle that one can assume will only end in despair. I would have given this movie 4.5 stars but the blood used in the movie looked more like water with red food coloring in it. Half-star deduction on a technicality :-/.

Overall, this is a good movie that puts a different spin on an old folklore. There are plenty of tales regarding the supernatural side of Japanese culture, but few make it to film. The sheer beauty and passion alone would make it a love story worth watching. But the action and vampire element make it that much more appealing.

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I remember watching Ten Shimoyama's "Otogiriso" a few years back during the height of America's fascination with the long black hair of Japanese horror. It was a decent effort for the genre but not as memorable as "Kairo," "Dark Water," or even the many sequels and squeakquels of "Ringu." After that, Shimoyama pushed out "Shinobi," a tale of two love struck ninjas from warring clans. "Shinobi" was a stylized step away from horror and a film that would make me wonder why the hell he chose to take a literal step back for "Blood," a flat entry into a sputtering sub-genre whose current fans are scarier than the digital footage they're engrossed by.

During the investigation of a maid that disappeared more than a decade ago, Cold Case Detective Hoshino encounters Miyako, the maid's former employer and local centuries old vampire. Through a game of seduction and bloodletting, Hoshino is lead to Ukyo, who reveals himself as the jilted corner of the sanguinary love triangle.

For a vampire film that promises a dramatic love story, nothing new was brought to the table. "Blood" delivers a tired tale that resembles nothing more than that of the straight-to-video, popular American affection to vampires. Have you ever watched a werewolf flick where a guy walks into a forest on a sunny day and just turns into a wolf? "Yeah, doesn't Jacob do that in `Twilight?'" *If you're a true horror fan and you did see that, did you still think that you were watching a werewolf even though he didn't transform with the aid of a full moon? That's one of the problems with "Blood." With a film like "Near Dark" you have an exception to the rule because it wasn't common practice to strip away the monster's mythology until you basically had: guy/girl that lives forever but has to drink blood and avoid sunlight. With "Blood," the vampires may not sparkle but they do walk around in the sunlight. To me, a vampire that walks around in the sunlight is a big no-no. These vamps have become: guy/girl that drinks blood and lives forever. I find it a little less interesting and not too original to peel away all of the layers of the vampire mythos until you just have a blood drinking human that has a long lifespan and a constant boner. I don't expect these jerks to not be able to cross running water, turn into bats, or shriek at the sight of garlic, but vampires can be very interesting and there's a lot to work with from the get-go. If you aren't going to have a vampire in your vampire film, pick some other creature and don't call it a vampire film.

Like "Shinobi," Shimoyama bumps up his blues when color correcting the nighttime or certain indoor shots of "Blood," giving it a particular cool feeling. The outdoor shots of the film are probably the best scenes in the movie because the location and the acting seems natural. All of the indoor scenery, with the exception of Hoshino's office, seems artificial and are given a bad DIY cheapness. Speaking of cheapness, there are a number of soft-core sex scenes that happen at random intervals that really detract from the film-they just happen whenever. With the exception of Hoshino's superior, played by Guts Ishimatsu, the acting is nothing to speak of. Actually, after seeing Aya Sugimoto (who plays Miyako) constantly follow her lines with a dramatic slow-turn, watching Ishimatsu as a hard-ass jaded detective was one of the most uplifting aspects of "Blood."

There are no special features whatsoever on the regular DVD of "Blood." The film is presented in a 16:9 full screen aspect ratio with a 5.1 Dolby Surround soundtrack. Dialogue and audio are clear and the picture quality is nice for being viewed on a system set up for Blu-ray. There is minor artifacting throughout the film (most obviously the title sequence) but it seems like that`s from the source material rather than a bad disc.

Even if you are a heavy Asian cinema fan, I would say that "Blood" isn't a film you'd want in your arsenal of DVDs. If you just have to watch "Blood," go back and start by watching Shimoyama's "Shinobi" or "St. John's Wort" so you can be witness to full potential not being realized. There are plenty of badass Asian films hitting the streets every week-go find `em.

Read Best Reviews of Blood (2009) Here

I like vampire movies. Great to Awful, I endure them all. 'Blood' doesn't make the 'Great' category, or even the 'Good' category, however it's not to bad to sneak downstairs and purloin the disc and pop it in to watch in darkness of the den/family room/wherever . . . what is that? A shadow in the corner of the room . . . yep . . . 'Blood' just might make you a bit jittery. BOO!

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