Starring Yumi Adachi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Kaho
Written and directed by Sion Sono
Reviewed at Fantasia 2018
An average of 600 movies are released a year. Most of them suck. This one does as well – but in the gory goody way. It has vampires, sucking blood for typical reasons. But the uniqueness materializes in how they retrieve your blood. Tokyo Vampire Hotel is unlike anything ever told on screen. Written and directed by legendary filmmaker Sion Sono, this horror is high energy and unpredictable with a unique and intriguing concept.
The prologue to Tokyo Vampire Hotel reveals two races of vampires: the Draculas and the Corvins. For centuries, the Draculas ruled the vampire race. But strategic raids allowed the Corvins to ascend, sealing lead vampire Dracula away and forcing the rest of the Dracula race into hiding. In an attempt to regain dominance, the Draculas devise a plan. They find three babies born in 1999 at 9:09:09, the rare instance when the planets align. The Draculas drip blood into the babies’ mouths. This begins the prophecy which claims that upon reaching age 22, these beings will revive the Dracula clan. Of the three infants, Manami (Ami Tomite) survives and is hours away from turning 22. But the Corvins have also become aware of her presence and seek to use her power for themselves.
Tokyo Vampire Hotel displays much of Sono’s influences as a director. The design of the hotel, with its pulsating colorfulness, ornate design and clandestine sections of death, gives an exaggerated vibe of The Shining. Multiple bloodbaths garnished the film, but a scene with Corvin member Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsushima) gunning down numerous humans resembled Scarface’s iconic gun-battle finale. Adding to Sono’s influences is the setting. He required locations that summoned history, requesting that Amazon (who funded the original 9-episode series for their streaming service) allow him to film a portion in Romania, which included Dracula’s castle.
While many filmmakers experience fear in originality, Sono effortlessly finds originality in fear – specifically in the camerawork he uses to capture it. In one gory scene, the camera moves along a track, sliding by different tables and capturing the conversations (and eventual bloodbath) of those tables. Camera and sound must be timed perfectly to execute this, which is why many directors refuse to do this shot. Additionally, Sono took the camera to Tokyo’s streets, sometimes following a character screaming through a crowd – or frequently weaving the camera through exhilarating gunfights. I feel that Sono makes a city go insane whenever he’s in it. This is why he’s my kind of director.
Great characters amplified the allure of this film. From the beginning, we see Empress (Yumi Adachi) sitting in an exquisite gown, smiling with girlish charm. However, when she laughs and allows her gown to swallow people, we are left mesmerized, petrified and disgusted. Eventually, Empress offers us Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), a flamboyant dresser with daddy issues. He’s a stimulating fighter, which heightens our lust for his matches with K (Kaho), a member of the Dracula clan. K’s sole mission is to keep Manami alive. She does this, regardless of if the situation calls for her to kill, hate, love, cry or scream. Ironically, we don’t get much dialogue from humans until the second half of the film. Yet they were just as fascinating as the vampires for once.
Tokyo Vampire Hotel is packed with high energy that can only come from the mind of Sion Sono. The characters and sets seduced me into checking out the 9-episode series it stemmed from. I recommend diving into it with an open mind and a free schedule. You won’t want to be preoccupied while feasting on this film.
Packed with high energy, gallons of blood, and… a baby, Tokyo Vampire Hotel will invade your brain for weeks.