Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000): Japan/Hong Kong/United States – directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, gore, moments of brief nudity
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a mash-up in the best sense of the word. It combines elements from multiple genres, wraps them around gorgeous artwork and an ingrained sense of anime, and spits out a final product that is fun, exciting, and thoughtful, if a bit two-dimensional.
The film is a sequel, in a way, to the 1985 feature Vampire Hunter D, a movie that dwells more on the violence and gore than anything substantial. The sequel is superior in a number of ways, not the least of which is the gorgeous artwork.
The story is intriguing enough to carry the film. D (voice of Andrew Philpot; for some bizarre reason my U.S.-release DVD does not have the original language soundtrack, which is disappointing [edit: the film was originally recorded in English, then Cantonese and finally Japanese]) is a vampire hunter, as you may have gathered from the title of the film. He is a dunpeal, a half-vampire and half-human creature. As such, he is scorned by the vampire community for betraying his bloodline, and hated and feared by humans for having vampire blood in him.
He is a loner; imagine Clint Eastwood as a half-vampire many thousand years in the future. Vampires once ruled this distant time period, but their numbers are dwindling. D and fellow bounty hunters are partially to blame. As the film opens we witness a young woman getting abducted by a creature of the night. Her father offers D a bounty to bring her back, even though he suspects the worst.
It is believed that the dreaded vampire Meier Link (John Rafter Lee) has taken her, and there is slim hope of rescuing her unturned. The girl’s father has also enlisted the help of the Marcus Brothers, a ruthless gang of human bounty hunters trained in killing hordes of vampires. Separately, the Marcus Brothers and D go in search of the woman, though their paths cross multiple times.
The movie takes delight in messing with so many established genres. There is the science fiction aspect of the distant future, which includes some of the technology that the Marcus Brothers employ. The world looks like a post-apocalyptic western: a human town is dusty, replete with Old West saloons and a sheriff in a cowboy hat. Another shot shows D wandering a vast wasteland littered with the skeletal remains of enormous satellite towers. There is an element of horror, not just with the vampires, but also in a couple scenes where hordes of creatures attack the Marcus Brothers, reminiscent of any zombie film. There is a great deal of gothic fantasy, as a great castle toward the end of the film looks like it belongs on the cover of a fantasy paperback, but more beautiful and alive.
Surrounding all of this is a distinctly Japanese sense of the spiritual. Animism is present, but never explained. One of the Marcus Brothers’ companions can summon a spirit form. It is incredibly destructive against their foes, but also sucks the life out of his human body. Some of the creatures D and the Marcus Brothers face on the journey are more spirit than physical being, or can shift back and forth at will.
At the center of everything is D himself. He is a stereotypical antihero, supremely cool and calm, but deadly with his sword. He is the outcast lone gunslinger from every Western. He is the deadly assassin from every samurai or ninja movie. He is tormented with angst, however, knowing he can never love another person, and will never be accepted by anyone. His immortal status ensures that he will outlive anyone he meets, outside of the vampires that he attempts to kill.
One of the most stunning aspects of the production is the artwork. There are innumerable iconic moments, with D silhouetted against the scenery. Perfectly centered shots of D or enormous castles are also very impressive. The action scenes are quite exciting, and often fairly violent. The English dubbing was not perfect, though there have been far worse crimes committed against Japanese-language films. I cannot fault the film for this, however, as I’m sure distributors messed with it after production.
The film raises some interesting questions concerning D and his outcast status, but there is nothing here that hasn’t been explored more completely in other films. Some other themes appear in the film, but most aren’t entirely fleshed out. As far as anime goes, a lot of the characters and story seem fairly generic.
That doesn’t detract from the fact that I enjoyed the film quite a lot. It is refreshing to see real vampires again, creatures tormented by their curse, powerful at night yet utterly helpless during the day. The film won’t be for everyone, as the violent content and sometimes-confusing story and genre mix-ups might turn off some viewers. Those familiar with Japanese cinema, on the other hand, will be delighted in a film that so successfully combines a great variety of genres while remaining true to its anime roots.