At the dawn of the Vietnam War, mysterious vampire-like monsters called Teropterids are stalking citizens around Japan. The only being able to take them down is sulky Saya (Youki Kudoh), a Japanese schoolgirl with mystical sword skills. Employed by a secret, American-funded organization, Saya learns of several Teropterid attacks occurring at a U.S. airbase. She goes undercover at a school for army brats, where students and faculty are busy preparing for their Halloween party. Her suspicions fall on willowy waif Linda (Melissa Fahn) and her chatty friend Sharon (Rebecca Forstadt), but elsewhere in town an aging barmaid (Akira Koieyama) starts behaving strangely. When the bloodsucking fiends finally launch into action, a Japanese nurse (Saemi Nakamura) is caught in the crossfire.
Based on a series of popular novels, Blood: The Last Vampire was a groundbreaking anime from Production I.G., the studio known later for their animated sequences in Kill Bill (2003). It was conceived as a multimedia project, with spin-off manga and computer games designed both to fill in the back-story and continue where the anime left off. Of course none of this was much help to English-speaking fans. With no access to these materials they had only the movie which, while moody and atmospheric, and packed full of adrenalin-charged action sequences, remains frustratingly inconclusive.
With its mid-Sixties backdrop, the plot exploits tensions arising from the American military presence, as vampiric monsters target Japanese whores sleeping with Yankee soldiers. However, an attack plan of all killer, no filler leaves little room for nuance. We never learn exactly what the Teropterids are or what they want, while our heroine is something of an enigma. Nevertheless, Aya remains an intriguing protagonist, neither vampire nor human and, it is suggested, over one hundred years old. She packs pouty-lipped sex appeal akin to a young Angelina Jolie and hides a gutsy, “never say die” attitude beneath her frosty demeanour.
The narrative may be slight, but the film crackles with tension akin to the lean, mean action-horror movies we once got from John Carpenter. Aya’s breathless pursuit of the Teropterid menace leads to some jump-out-of-your-seat shocks, deadpan gags (look out for the man in the Dracula costume!), and gory splatter-deaths, with kinetic action scenes that pack a visceral punch. Plus the agile vamps are truly scary. Amidst the relentless carnage, there are grace notes including the aftermath of the first vampire slaying where the nurse frozen in shock mourns the child monsters, and the sight of Aya kindly dropping blood from her wrists into a dying Teropterid’s mouth.
Gorgeous digital animation sweeps from eye-popping moments sights like the CG aircraft or the awesome multi-plane zoom onto a lone Teropterid amidst Halloween dancers, to lovely little touches like the children’s Halloween costumes or the sepia-toned visuals that recall faded old photographs. In Japan this was a prestigious production, the first to feature both English and Japanese dialogue, with internationally known actress Youki Kudoh (Mystery Train (1989), Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)) on lead vocal duties and hip character designs from superstar artist Kazuya Terada. It’s expertly directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo, an often-inspired animator whose eclectic filmography includes the excellent, Katsuhiro Otomo scripted Roujin Z (1991), satirical sex-comedy Golden Boy (1995), and one of the most original anime epics ever, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (1993). Blood: The Last Vampire was followed by a far more conventional anime series, Blood + (2005) and a live action remake is due in 2009, starring the lovely and talented Jeon Ji Hyun from My Sassy Girl (2001).