Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: anime

Review: Blood – The Last Vampire

When I first heard about Twilight, I have to admit I was a little excited. I didn’t know anything about the story, of course, I just knew it involved vampires. I’ve always thought that the vampire myth had a lot of potential in it, but I had never seen any work (film, novel or otherwise [except maybe for one RPG I used to play]) come close to unlocking it. I thought (stupidly) that Twilight might have done that.


I was horribly disappointed (of course), not only because the book (and film) delivered nearly nothing good, but also because they spawned an army of vampire-media that seemed even worse. I was about to give up on my hopes of finding anything vampire-related that was worth the myth it built itself on.

And then I found Blood – The Last Vampire. The title sounds a little corny (I’m sure it sounds much cooler in Japanese), but the film blew my mind.

It’s quite short – just over an hour. But in that hour the full greatness of the vampire myth was unpacked. No, not really unpacked. More like, the lid creaked open a crack and let a tiny bit of quality out, giving pleasure and a deep longing for some.

Saya is the last vampire, though she is never called that in the film (Which is a good thing. The best way to destroy a vampire film is to use the word vampire). She works for the American government and hunts human-devouring demons in Japan. The audience gets to see one of her missions, in which she infiltrates an American high school in Japan and hunts down a couple of demons that have been spotted there.

What makes Blood so good?
First, Saya is just about the deepest vampire character I’ve ever come across. In every other film vampires are portrayed as sexy, playful beings who are full of adolescent pettiness. That portrayal, though, makes no sense when you think about it. Even though Edward, for example, is trapped in a teenage body, he is not a teenager. He’s, what, a hundred and fifty years old? Does it really make sense for a hundred-year-old guy to be attracted to a teenager? What are they going to talk about? Boy bands? Heck, it would be hard for him to have the patience to deal with immature 50-year-olds. Sorry girls, but Edward is just about the dumbest vampire I’ve ever seen.
Saya pulls of the centuries-old vampire in a teenage body perfectly. She is not playful. She is not sexy. She is frustrated, unsympathetic and perma-pissed. Just as a vampire should be. You can see her frustration and annoyance with the children she is pretending to fit in with. She’s a real vampire.
Another great thing about Blood is the depth of the world its set in. Even though we only get to hang out with Saya for an hour, we can tell that there is a lot beneath the surface with her and her world. So many things are alluded to that are never fully answered. I’m not going to go into details, for spoiler’s sake, but the setting is deep. And that’s an amazing achievement when you consider how short the film is.
Just like Princess Mononoke, Blood does not resolve. And the manner in which it refuses to resolve is achingly well played. You leave the film begging for a sequel (on a related note, there is a series [Blood+] which is inspired by the movie. Never seen it though, so no comment).
One of my favorite aspects is Saya herself. She is simply not your average heroine. It’s very hard to love her. You get the impression that she’s a very evil person and she’s not sexy or fun like most heroines tend to be. She’s complicated and intense. She’s merciless and hates pretty much everyone (I think), but she’s fighting for the right side (I think). Like Princess Mononoke (and the Bible), it’s not a classic Good vs. Evil fight. Its something deeper.

Of course, one good question to ask is why do I like the fact that Saya is (really) a bad person? Because the heart of the vampire myth is evil. Vampires cannot be sexy and fun because they are evil. And evil can never be (permanently) sexy or fun. Evil must always give way to frustration and monotony. Which is why the Interview With The Vampire series works so well. You may think it would be fun to be immortal and strong. But the evil you need to take on in order to become that way kills any goodness that you might have gained.

So forget Edward. Saya is the real deal. And while she will never fall in love with a cute boy or giggle or anything like that, she will faithfully portray the vampire myth, as depressing as it is. And it’s better that way. We see the horror of personal evil clearer that way.

Review: Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke
Most people discount animations. It’s too bad, because some of the best films out there are animations. You should give them a chance.
One of our favorite animations is the Japanese film, Princess Mononoke. It was written by Hayao Miyazaki, who also made Ponyo, which I’ve mentioned here before.
I’ve heard it said that Princess Mononoke was Hayao Miyazaki’s best. And it’s easy to see why. The film blew my mind.
A remote village in feudal Japan is attacked by a massive boar demon. The last prince of the village, Ashitaka, manages to save the village and kill the creature. Unfortunately, he is cursed for doing it. The curse will surely kill him, the elders say. But there is a faint hope if he abandons his people and sets out on a quest to the strange lands in the west. The story is all about his quest and the war he becomes entangled in while trying to find a cure.
Princess Mononoke stands out among films for a ton of reasons. One is the way the film starts off looking like one of those epic battles between good and evil. But as it goes on, you see that it’s not that at all. The hero is good, yes. But not perfectly. The bad guys are, well, just on the other side, really. One of the themes is the constant battle between Man and Nature. In every story Nature is always the good guy and Man is the bad guy. Not so in Princess Mononoke. Both are good to their own. Both are bad to each other. Both are real.
Stories with this realistic view of good and evil really resonate with me. I think that’s because in real life there are very few (if any) pure Good vs. Evil situations. Look through the Bible, even, and you’ll see that every hero is a little bad and every villain is a little good. Life is complicated, and so are our conflicts.
Another great aspect is how completely character-driven the story is. Like with any decent story, I find myself caring about the characters’ goals, not because I actually want those goals realized, but because I’ve fallen in love with the characters and want them to get what they want. Heck, I find myself wanting some of the ‘bad guys’ to get their goals, because they are so real and sympathetic, that I love them, too.

Tiny spoilers ahead:
One of my favorite aspects of the film is how it refuses to resolve. Most popular movies have a very satisfying ending that ties up every loose end. The bad guys dies, the hero gets the girl, the annoying character get punished in some funny and satisfying way. No such resolution in Princess Mononoke. This annoys some people, of course. We are used to resolutions, which is funny, really, because we don’t have any in real life. Until you die, of course. So it seems to me that a story that doesn’t resolve mirrors real life better than a story that does. It makes it more raw. More real. Very tasty.
Spoilers over.

If you like rich stories with wild scenes and deep characters, this is a movie for you. If you like epic fantasy that breaks the mold of what epic fantasy usually is, this is a movie for you. Don’t mind that it’s a cartoon. It’s still epic. There’s nothing childish about it. In fact, I don’t think I’d let my kids watch it. It’s closer to 300 than it is to Scooby Doo.

On the cliff by the sea

var addthis_pub=”4a0af351783743a8″;I took Joseph out last night. We went to see Ponyo.
I was impressed. But not in the way I thought I would be.
Remember when Shrek first came out? And all the kids and adults loved it together. The kids loved it because it was a colourful, musical cartoon. The adults loved it because of its mature humor and deep content. Shrek was great – a film to bridge the gaps, you know?
Ponyo wasn’t like that at all. It think it’s thoroughly a children’s movie. There were no hidden jokes, nothing too deep under the surface. But I loved it.
It seems to me that children’s media has been turning toward the flippant and silly over the last few decades. Superfriends and Classic Disney is replaced either by shows that rest on mucas and bodily noises for their interest.
Joseph didn’t laugh much throughout Ponyo. But, boy, did he ever grin. He pointed and grinned when the hero first met Ponyo. He sighed and was sad when Ponyo was taken by the wave. He turned very serious when the hero lost his mother. He laughed and cheered when the movie ended and everything was made right. Ponyo gave him one of those ‘deep movie’ joys that you only get with a seriously well made movie. Joe doesn’t ever really get excited during Spongebob (he just kinda sits there with his mouth open). But he actually got joy from Ponyo. The same kinda of look he gets when he watches Superfriends (yes, we watch Superfriends – don’t knock it until you try it).
I wish there would be more films like Ponyo.
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