Tokyo Vampire Hotel

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tokyo Vampire Hotel
"They're not just undead, they're gloriously larger than life."

In the hands of most directors willing to touch it today, the vampire movie is a parade of clich├ęs. In the hands of Sion Sono, however, nothing is predictable. The first 42 minutes, in which we witness a teenage girl in a fluffy pink jacket shooting up a sushi bar, establish that the end of the world is nigh, see Romanian and Japanese vampire clans fighting for control of what remains, observe the Japanese ones trying to breed humans in a giant hotel located inside one of their leaders' transdimensional vagina, and watch another teenager, called Manami, hunted in the streets because of her special blood, exuberantly up the ante. And that's just the pre-credits sequence.

Seguing between the pop art brightness of the titular hotel and the grim monochrome of the salt mines where the Romanian vampires live like a cult in awe of the heir of Dracula, this is a film of extremes, visually and in terms of its characters. There's the shrivelled matriarch at the head of the Japanese Corvin clan, who can only recover her youthful beauty for a few hours at a time even if she drinks the best blood available. There are her incestuous children, who plot her demise. There's the bold young assassin who was born in Japan but has become a naturalised Romanian, whom the head of the Dracula clan keeps promising will be his one true love if she just completes one more mission. And there's Manami, who grew up an orphan and whose story - and destiny - are far more complex than she or anyone else suspects.

Copy picture

There's no real hero in any of this. Though Sono invites us to sympathise with a variety of characters, there are so many double crosses that it's hard to stay on anyone's side throughout, and Manami, as the innocent, also does terrible things as she gives vent to her animalistic nature. As with other world of Sono's, everything is so richly imagined that one feels one has come late to the party or missed the start of the joke everyone else is enjoying, but in fact all these diverse and peculiar events make sense if you pay attention for long enough, at leas inasmuch as they are held together by the film's internal logic. The strange game show that appears to be taking place in the ballroom turns out to be an attempt to get captured humans - still unaware of their situation - to pair off and mate so that future supplies of vampire food can be assured. The cavern walls that bleed when stabbed are drawing on the blood of hundreds of prisoners who crawl over one another in a Dante-esque Hellscape, stabbing themselves as they do so.

There's an incredible amount of blood and gore on display throughout the film, partly because these vampires prefer not to bite discreetly but to slash their victims and let it gush all over their faces, partly because of Sono's thing for severed heads. There's also a lot of eroticism, though the sex itself, between the humans, is never directly visible and is played for laughs - though some humans rise up and affect what might, in other types of film, be considered a heroic attitude, here there is never any suggestion that they will amount to anything. Even their clothing choices are awful, whilst Kazuhiro Sawataishi presents us with some of the best and most spectacularly dressed vampires to grace the screen for decades. They're not just undead, they're gloriously larger than life.

Dramatic action sequences and spectacular fight scenes are interspersed with scheming, preparations for war, and flashbacks to more innocent times when some of the vampires were mortal. A repeated lyric about falling in love under a blue sky is the closest thing we get to the genre's usual complement of angst. This, to put things in context, a film in which the hotel staff keep a wall covered in guns just because they think it's funny when their human guests try to shoot them. Tokyo Vampire Hotel offers filmgoers a wild ride full of passion, ultraviolence and bizzare events. It's wonderfully colourful, elegantly framed and delivered with complete conviction. Part of this year's Fantasia selection, this is a film in which Rocky Horror's Transylvanians would feel upstaged.

Reviewed on: 01 Aug 2018
Share this with others on...
As the end of the world approaches, two vampire clans fight it out over a human girl with special blood.
Amazon link

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Starring: Kaho, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Ami Tomite, Megumi Kagurazaka, Yumi Adachi

Year: 2017

Runtime: 142 minutes

Country: Japan

Festivals:

Fantasia 2018

Search database: