TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL (2017)

Streaming Review by LL Soares

Streaming over on Amazon Prime, you can check out the 10-part miniseries TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL (2017), a Japanese show that got very little promotion when Amazon acquired it. There were actually two versions of this story—the miniseries available on Prime, where the episodes run from 30 – 50 minutes each (it varies) —and a two-hour and 22 minute theatrical version which played at festivals. I have no idea how coherent the theatrical version is—that’s a lot of story to cut down into 2 ½ hours! I suspect, though, that many people will find the 6+ hour miniseries to be something of a challenge. I was able to get through it, but that’s because I liked the pure crazed anarchy of it. Other viewers may not agree it’s worth seeing to until the end.

Directed by controversial Japanese director Sion Sono, who also gave us SUICIDE CLUB (2001, probably his most famous film), STRANGE CIRCUS (2005), LOVE EXPOSURE (2008), COLD FISH (2010), and WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013), TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL begins in a sushi restaurant where Manami (Ami Tomite, also in Sono’s TAG, 2015, and Yoshihiro Nishimura’s MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU, 2017) is celebrating her 22nd birthday. Suddenly, a woman arrives who pulls out a machine gun and kills most of the people in the restaurant, until she is murdered by another group of killers. Everyone is after Manami, because when she turns 22, her secret powers will manifest.

It’s a long story. There are two groups of vampires. The Dracula Clan, the oldest group, once dominated but have since been forced underground, hidden from the society of humans. The new clan, the Corvin (or Neo-Vampire) Clan, control much of the above-ground world, unbeknownst to the human populace. In a last-ditch effort to return the Dracula Clan to prominence, the planets aligned on September 9, 1999. Children born at nine seconds past 9:09 on this day were considered sacred, and were secretly stolen and given blood of Dracula to suckle on, then they were returned to the hospitals. Three children were born at this time in Japan, but we assume others were born in other countries. When these children turn 22, they will have the power to resurrect the Dracula Clan and restore the clan to its former glory.

However, most of the children suckled on Dracula blood do not live to their 22nd birthday. Most go mad and kill themselves. Manami is the only one who survives, and she immediately becomes a chess piece in the struggle between the Dracula and the Corvin Clans. On the Dracula side, we have the relentless warrior named K (Kaho, of FOREBODING, 2017, and JOURNEY OF THE SKY GODDESS, 2019), who leads a gang of female assassins. She works for the “Master” – Dracula’s descendant in Romania. On the Corvin side, we’ve got the ambitious gangster Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsushima, of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, 2017) who wants to be the lord of the vampires, his lover Elizabeth Bathory (Megumi Kagurazaka, of Sono’s WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?, 2013, and Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS, 2010), and Elizabeth’s mother, an ancient vampire who looks like a shriveled up doll with a big head, until she’s given vampire blood to drink and turns into a youthful woman with pigtails!

Both sides want Manami, and fight to get her. This includes not only vampiric attacks, but lots of automatic guns and samurai swords. Vampires are killed more likely in a hail of bullets than with a wooden stake. At one point, Yamada opens the Hotel Requiem to some of the human population, inviting numerous young and attractive people who do not have any immediate family members (and won’t be missed). Yamada has sinister plans for them, involving the revelation that the world has come to an end (via nuclear destruction) while they’ve all been partying, and demanding that they feed the Corvin Clan with their blood. He also wants Manami and her sacred blood for himself. K does whatever she can to keep Manami away from him.

It’s a long, convoluted storyline with lots of blood, bullets, and overall violence. Sion Sono is known as an iconoclastic director in Japan, and his films aren’t for everyone. If you like the first episode, you’ll probably want to give it a chance. If not, you might want to invest the time elsewhere. But I really enjoyed it, from the insane storyline right down to the theme song by Japanese pop band, Tricot. An unexpectedly poignant storyline unfolds late in the series, involving the hotel’s chef named Cody, a vampire who sneaks out of the hotel to the outside world after his shift is done, and his friendship with a little girl who is the only human born in the hotel.

Fans of crazy, ultraviolent Japanese movies might have a good time with this one. If nothing else, TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL is unlike anything else on TV.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

MR. INBETWEEN (2018)

A “TV TRANSFUSION” Review by LL Soares

It’s really annoying when you watch a new show, really love it, and then it ends much too soon.

This is what happened to me when I watched the six episodes of the new show MR. INBETWEEN on the FX Channel on three Tuesday nights from late September to early October of this year. It was the first show to be aired here in the States to be made by FX Australia. Six episodes is an awful short season for a TV show. Even more so when it’s shown two episodes at a time over three consecutive Tuesday nights.

It stars Scott Ryan as Ray Shoesmith, a hit man and all around enforcer for a gangster named Freddy (Damon Herriman, best known here for playing Dewey Crowe on the series JUSTIFIED and Buddy on the unjustly canceled-before-its-time Cinemax series, QUARRY, Herriman will also be playing Charles Manson twice in 2019, in Season 2 of the Netflix series MINDHUNTER and in Quentin Tarantino’s next movie, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD!). While Herriman is the most recognizable actor here, Ryan is the star, and MR. INBETWEEN gives us a great introduction to this actor.

His character, Ray, isn’t some glamorous James Bond type or an especially scary cold-blooded killer. Instead, Ray is just an everyday bloke who just happens to beat people up, or more often kill them, for a living. Ray is a put-upon, world-weary dude who is just trying to get through life, and who has zero tolerance for assholes, on the job or in his regular life.

Aside from his boss, we also meet his best friend, Gary (Justin Rosniak, also in the original movie version of ANIMAL KINGDOM, 2010), a goofy, bearded fellow who is constantly getting into trouble; Bruce (Nicholas Cassim), Ray’s older brother who has a motor function disease that is incapacitating him more and more as time goes on; Brittany (Chika Yasumura), Ray’s eight-year-old daughter; Jacinta (Natalie Tran), his ex-wife; and Nick (Edmund Lembke-Hogan) another thug who becomes Ray’s sidekick in a couple of episodes, until Ray finds out a troubling secret about him. There’s also Ally (Brooke Satchwell), who Ray meets in a dog park one day and who he has a relationship with. She’s tough and sexy, and is understandably disturbed as she slowly finds out what kinds of things he does for a living.

The episodes involve such stories as Ray taking the blame when Gary’s wife finds a p-no tape involving water sports in their house (Gary tells her that Ray left it there, and she proceeds to tell poor Ray how disgusting he is); Ray spending time with his daughter the times when he has custody, including bringing her over to his brother Bruce’s house – Ray takes care of his brother who’s health is slowly deteriorating; Gary’s Russian brother-in-law coming to stay with him, and eventually robbing him at gunpoint; Ray firing a semi-automatic at a carful of gangsters following him in their car; and Ray going to anger management classes mandated by law, even though he clearly doesn’t think he belongs there (he doesn’t hurt people out anger, he does it because they deserve it). The last two episodes are a two-part story involving a couple of killers who take Ray and his car by gunpoint, with the intention of bringing him to his death, but they take a side trip to a house where Ray has some hidden money, which he’s offered to give them if they let him go.

The character of Ray, despite his profession, is sympathetic and likeable, and you find yourself cheering for him despite the things he does. After all, he’s just trying to make a living. He also refuses to take any crap from people in his normal life – like when some teenagers insult him in front of his daughter; he tracks them down later to give them some rough life lessons.

The thing is, at six episodes, by the time I was getting comfortable with the show, and really digging Scott Ryan’s performance as Ray, the season was over. Ryan also writes all six episodes, and it’s directed by Nash Edgerton, who also directed the movies THE SQUARE (2008) and GRINGO (2018), and a bunch of Bob Dylan music videos, as well as being a seasoned stuntman.

FX just announced that they’ve renewed the show for a second season, but what the hell am I supposed to do in the meantime? If anyone from FX is reading this (which, I know, is highly unlikely), how about making twice as many episodes in Season 2? Six ain’t enough to even get your feet wet.

So I found myself tracking down a 2005 Australian movie called THE MAGICIAN on Amazon Streaming. It’s the first time we ever get to meet Ray Shoesmith, and it’s kind of funny to see Scott Ryan 13 years younger than he is now, with a faint shadow of the mustache he’d have in later years. He looks so damn young in this movie! And yet, it’s a nice little appetizer if you’re a fan of MR. INBETWEEN. It’s one of those “found footage” mockumentary films, where the director/cameraman is supposed to be making a documentary about someone’s life. In this case, the subject is Ray, as the “director” Max (Massimiliano Andrighetto) follows around his neighbor (Ray) and films him as he does his job, which includes shooting people in the head, and roughing up people who owe his boss money. There are some themes and plot points in the movie that show up again later in the TV show, but, just like the show, the heart of the piece of Ray, who just treats the job of hit man and all around thug as just another workaday blue collar gig. He’s as likable in 2005 as he is now, although it’s clear that THE MAGICIAN was made for peanuts (allegedly with a budget of $3,000), as a chance for Scott Ryan (who stars in it, of course, but also wrote and directed the movie) to get some exposure. It’s a fun little throwback for you if you get hooked on MR. INBETWEEN, like I did.

I’d really like to see Ryan’s career take off after this.

But I really want to urge you to seek MR. INBETWEEN out. With each episode running about 30 minutes, it’s not a big investment to watch the six episodes of Season 1. And that way you’ll probably get hooked on the show and be as annoyed as I am that we have to wait awhile for Season 2!!

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares