Adapted from a popular Japanese manga and anime, Blood: The Last Vampire offers a different spin on the vampire tale that while entertaining, is not as successful as it could be.
It’s 1970 in Japan, and vampires are on the prowl, incited in what’s building up to a war against humans by their leader, ancient vampire Onegin. What makes these vampires difficult to hunt is that until they transform into bloodsucker mode (in which they resemble gargoyles), they can pass for human and even walk around in daylight. It’s up to a female vampire hunter named Saya to spot the vampires and slay them; she’s supported by a shadowy organization called the Council. Both Saya and the Council are worried because Onegin’s been spotted recently, and killings at an American Air Force base may be related to Onegin. Saya’s stake in this is not just duty, it’s personal – Onegin killed Saya’s father and later her mentor.
Blood: The Last Vampire has a good deal going for it. The Vietnam War-era setting is unusual and provides for some nice political and social flavor (even if some of the period details don’t quite work). The acting is good, in particular Gianna as the grim, determined vampire hunter, Liam Cunningham as a sympathetic member of the too-enigmatic Council, Allison Miller as a military brat who gets roped into the vampiric goings-on, and Koyuki as the enigmatic Onegin. The pace is good and the running time is tight – perhaps too tight, which leads to the flaws of the film.
The major problem with Blood: The Last Vampire is that while there are fights aplenty, there’s never a sense of what’s at stake. We’re told there’s going to be an outright war waged by vampires on humans but nothing comes of that. Beyond a few killings of characters we barely or never meet, there’s never anything shown of this so-called war. Likewise, the movie can’t settle on one villain for more than ten minutes, and consequently all of Saya’s battles – even the climactic one against Onegin – carry no dramatic weight. And the subplot about the Council – probably one of the more interesting aspects of the film – is dropped completely about 2/3 into the film.
Not helping matters is the overabundance of CGI, which makes the plentiful blood look fake, and the fight scenes are uninvolving because the figures engaged in them are often obviously computer-generated. It has that feeling of watching a video game rather than flesh-and-blood (in the literal and metaphorical sense) characters.
Which is a shame, because there’s a good movie at the core. If the subplots and characters had been given more room to breathe and the effects had been more old-school wire work and blood squibs, Blood: The Last Vampire could have been a welcome break from the sparkle-vampires currently in vogue. It’s worth a look, though, particularly if you’re a fan of the source manga and anime.
Blood: The Last Vampire comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Sony, and is presented in a lovely 2.35:1 transfer that really showcases the film’s vibrant color palette and stylized visuals, with a depth of contrast to the image that lends it an almost three-dimensional quality. Blacks are lush and velvety, fleshtones are accurately rendered, and the level of detail is really quite outstanding. The image looks so good, in fact, that it does the rather lackluster CGI effects work a disservice, making its shortcomings all the more apparent.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a powerhouse, offering an aggressive and thoroughly stomach rumbling bass assault with every action sequence, while the surround effects fill the soundfield, delivering a fully immersive and theater-like aural experience that stands amongst the best mixes I’ve heard on the medium thus far. Every sound, from the clashing of swords, the rumble of a passing train, or a raindrop lightly kissing the sidewalk, is wonderfully articulated and defined, while dialogue is crisp and clear and always just in front of the mix. A reference quality audio track in all respects.
Supplements are, sadly, on the light side, with only a pair of short featurettes (in standard definition), and a trio of storyboard galleries (HD) serving as film specific extras. Several HD trailers for other Sony releases are also included.