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  Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust The future sucks.  Literally.
Year: 2001
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Stars: Hideyuki Tanaka, Emi Shinohara, Ichiro Nagai, Koichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Hocho Otsuka, Ryuzaburo Otomo, Toshiko Seki, Yusaku Yara, Akiko Yajima, Bibari Maeda
Genre: Horror, Western, Action, Animated, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Centuries into the future, a post-apocalyptic Earth is overrun with vampires while bands of hi-tech bounty hunters roam the wastelands, protecting the helpless for the right price. The toughest of these is D (voiced by Hideyuki Tanaka), a half-vampire or “dhampire” of unparalleled power sired by the king of vampires himself, Dracula. Hired by members of Elbourne family to rescue Charlotte (Emi Shinohara), a young woman abducted by a powerful vampire named Meier Link (Koichi Yamadera), D finds himself competing with rival bounty hunters the Markus Brothers along with the gutsy Leila (Megumi Hayashibara, Japan’s most popular voice actress) who bears a grudge against all vampire-kind. In the midst of eluding Meier’s monstrous minions and evil entities out to protect the pair, D is alarmed to discover that far from a victim, Charlotte actually loves Meier and wants to become his vampire bride. But whilst grappling with this revelation, D uncovers darker forces intent on using the star-crossed lovers for their own evil ends.

A tardy sequel to Toyoo Ashida’s influential fan-favourite Vampire Hunter D (1985), this time with anime’s great action-horror auteur Yoshiaki Kawajiri at the helm. Based on the third novel in Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter series, titled: “Demon Deathcase”, the plot is indeed for the most part one extended chase but gives greater breathing room for the talented author’s pleasing philosophical inclinations and romantic themes. Integral to the story are various moral dilemmas intertwined with this notion of escaping a spiritually and physically corrupted planet to forge a better and brighter life among the stars. Forever conflicted about his vampire heritage, D is haunted by the thought Charlotte could bring another cursed dhampire into the world while Leila grapples with a life wasted in bitterness and revenge. In turn, Meier struggles to hold back his bloodlust while Charlotte feels guilty that their love has caused so much senseless death. This ability to fuse the psychological turmoil of his characters with terrific, visceral body-horror set-pieces is a hallmark of writer-director Kawajiri’s work, notably Wicked City (1987) and Ninja Scroll (1993).

As with the previous film, the production design is best surmised as Hammer horror meets spaghetti western, but Kawajiri throws in elements of post-apocalyptic science fiction a la The Road Warrior (1981), vivid and quite unsettling monster concepts alluding to H.R. Giger, and takes the whole vampires-in-space concept somewhere considerably more poetic than was managed in Lifeforce (1985). Boasting a significantly bigger budget than its predecessor, this pulls off some spectacular visuals (spaceships styled like gothic cathedrals, vast crumbling cityscapes, shambling zombie hordes, baroque castle interiors straight out of Jean Cocteau) while Kawajiri’s dynamic handling of the action set-pieces puts it leagues ahead of live action rivals like Blade (1998) or most certainly Vampires (1998). The western motif is further enhanced by the use of a plot twist not dissimilar from the one featured in Richard Brooks’ underrated The Professionals (1966) and the near Hawksian characterisation, with D’s alternately antagonistic and compassionate relationship with Leila especially well drawn.

The film’s English dub, which was actually produced before the soundtrack was recorded in Japanese, ranks among the very few accomplished examples of its kind with Andrew Philpot making a very fine, Clint Eastwood-alike D and prolific voice actress Pamela Segall (an Emmy award-winner for her role as Bobby in King of the Hill) exceptional as Leila. An intriguing plot twist introduces Carmilla, a vampire queen inspired by J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s literary creation fused with elements of the historical figure Countess Elizabeth Bathory who famously bathed in virgin’s blood. Japanese genre fans may be delighted to learn the character is voiced by Bibari Maeda, a.k.a. Beverly Maeda, the actress who decades ago played plucky jungle girl Reiko in Son of Godzilla (1967).

If the slick, no-nonsense, mainstream friendly action thrills lack the quirky warmth of the original, the film still packs an abundance of clever concepts and memorable scenes. Notably a moment of sheer cool when D catches an arrow from hundreds of yards away and a moving scene where an elderly man defending the hunter from ungrateful townsfolk turns out to be a child he once rescued a great many years ago. Some claim that the affecting coda indicates this film might be a prequel given D comes face-to-face with a pigtailed little girl who might grow up to be Doris, heroine of the first film, but as poignant as that sounds it is bit of a stretch.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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