Saya, a mysterious Japanese girl, is fighting her way through the centuries – hunting demons and looking for her father’s killer. She has since teamed up with a mysterious organisation that wages a secret war against vampires. When it seems a US army base in Japan is being infiltrated by vampires, Saya is sent undercover to a school at the base, where her fate gets intertwined with that of the commander’s daughter Alice.
I believe I have repeatedly stated how difficult I find it to get into Asian films, and Japanese material in particular. Blood: The Last Vampire is a prime example. The film revels in only ever half-revealing its backstory and leaving vague as many things as possible. It is so much in love with its own style that it does not bother with plot holes or other inconsistencies. And it also has a really vague ending. I always encounter at least some these problems when I watch Asian films.
In the case of Blood: The Last Vampire, there is the additional problem that the film tries to adapt previously created material, which can always muddle things up. Apparently, the original idea stems from an aborted CG-animé project of the same name, which was intended as a 3-part miniseries, but ended up as a 48-minute short film (which was, as far as I know, the middle part of the intended trilogy). Adaptations in form of mangas and light-novels followed, as well as spin-off animé shows.
This 2009 film is the result of an international co-production including backers from France and Hong Kong. The two lead roles of Alice and Saya are played by US actress Allison Miller and South Korean actress Ji-hyun Jun (My Sassy Girl). Most of the major supporting characters, however, are played by British actors, including Larry Lamb as Alice’s father, Andrew Pleavin as his driver, and Colin Salmon as one of the high school teachers. There is also a brief cameo by Michael Byrne. Irish actor Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) completes the list of well-known faces in this film, in his role as Saya’s contact and mentor, which sees him channel his inner Jean Reno. Cunningham grounds the film at the beginning and provides the warmth this film so desperately needs.
The film not only has an interesting cast, but also interesting characters. Some of these characters (and actors) are very much underutilised, however, like Colin Salmon, for example (who should be used to the feeling by now).
On top of great performances by people like Cunningham and Lamb, the film is lucky to have two very solid leads. Miller was the ideal casting choice for Alice, and Ji-hyun Jun does a very good job as Saya.
Naming the character “Alice” might be a reference to Lewis Carroll, as Alice is basically going down a rabbit hole as her life comes into contact with the human-vampire-war. There also seems to be a reference to Through the Looking Glass.
The fight sequences look good and are very entertaining, but a lot of the CG-work involved in this film looks painfully cheap. These looks should have been a thing of the past by 2009. Scenery, set design, and costumes, however, are rather good. I’m not getting too much of a 1970 vibe though – the year the story is supposed to take place – despite some efforts by the wardrobe department. The filmmakers tried to help by overlaying parts of the film with a bit of a yellowish filter, trying to give it a period feel.
The story is gripping and entertaining in the sense that there is rarely ever a lull. But the writing is just not up to scratch. Apart from inconsistencies, explanation gaps, and plot holes, the dialogue is just mediocre far too often.
As I said, these type of Asian films are probably just not for me. And despite its entertaining elements, with all its shortcomings the experience of watching this film is not one that I can – subjectively – rate much higher than 3.5 out of 10.