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

TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001)

Movie review by LL Soares

I’m a big fan of French horror films. From the 1960 classic Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) to the 1970s French vampire films of the great Jean Rollin, to the movies Jesus Franco made in France, to the more recent films considered part of the New French Extremity movement, such as HAUTE TENSION (2003), INSIDE (2007) and MARTYRS (2008). So when I finally had a chance to see Claire Denis’s 2001 film TROUBLE EVERY DAY, one of the earlier films of the New French Extremity, I was happy to check it out.

Claire Denis is sort of a one-woman genre of her own, having made so many different kinds of movies, from the colonial drama CHOCOLAT (1988) to the French Foreign Legion drama BEAU TRAVAIL (1999), to her most recent films, the comedy LET THE SUNSHINE IN (2017) and the sci-fi flick HIGH LIFE (2018). Of course, she made a horror movie, and it’s a doozy.

TROUBLE EVERY DAY is kind of a vampire film. It starts out with a woman named Core (Beatrice Dalle, also the titular character in the movie BETTY BLUE, 1986, as well as in Michael Haneke’s TIME OF THE WOLF, 2003, and the great French horror film INSIDE, 2007) wandering around and seducing a trucker, who she then proceeds to mutilate and drink his blood. Not really the fangs in the neck variety, let’s just say that Core is a very messy eater. She bites off facial features and body parts as much as she drinks blood, and when her husband Leo (Alex Descas, also in several other Claire Denis films, and in Olivier Assayas’s IRMA VEP, 1996) tracks her down, she’s a bloody mess. The fact that he stays with her, and that he covers up her murders by burying the victims and cleaning her up, says a lot about their relationship. First of all, he obviously loves her. And second, he clearly feels guilty about what she has become.

It’s also the story of newlyweds Shane (Vincent Gallo) and June (Tricia Vessey, also in BEAN, 1997, and GHOST DOG: WAY OF THE SAMURAI, 1999) Brown, who have just arrived in Paris for their honeymoon. They are also in love, and June at first seems very happy. But there’s something wrong, an overriding tensions that slowly devours their wedded bliss. This gets worse when Shane takes the last of some pills he has brought along. He immediately goes searching for a doctor from his past, namely Leo, who we met earlier.

Shane works for a pharmaceutical company and in enigmatic flashbacks, it’s clear that he worked with Leo on some past project in the jungles of Bolivia. We are led to believe that whatever has happened to Core has something to do with this secret research. And it also had some effect on Shane that we’re not sure about.

Shane can’t find Leo. The lab where he worked fired him, and the scientists there claim to have no idea where Leo is. In the meantime, Leo has taken on the role of a local physician for rural patient, and keeping a low profile, while still doing research of his own in the basement of the house he shares with Core.

Meanwhile, two criminals have been casing Leo’s house, and are curious why he goes to such lengths to keep it secure (there are bars on all the windows, etc.). Obviously, he’s done this to keep Core from going out (even though she escapes occasionally anyway), but the thieves think he’s hiding something of value in the house. After at least one unsuccessful attempt to break in, they finally are able to break a basement window and gain access after Leo has gone off to work.

Needless to say, they find something they’re not expecting.

Shane has been getting more and more desperate. He needs to track Leo down, but isn’t getting very far. In the meantime, he is avoiding any passion with June (for fear that he might not be able to control himself?). In one scene, he stops making love to her to run to the bathroom and finish himself off violently, which disturbs his wife (and us). Then a woman who works at Leo’s former lab finally contacts him and tells Shane how to reach his old friend. Shane arrives at Leo’s house soon after those thieves have broken in…

TROUBLE EVERY DAY is dark, enigmatic, and atmospheric, and the violent scenes are very gory.  A big reason why I wanted to see it was because Denis is such an interesting director, and I’m a fan of star Vincent Gallo, who had previously starred in and directed the great BUFFALO ’66 (1998) and had roles in films like Abel Ferrara’s THE FUNERAL (1996) and a previous Denis film, NENETTE AND BONI (1996). He would go on to write and direct (and star in) the controversial THE BROWN BUNNY in 2003.

I really enjoyed this one and think it deserves a wider audience.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares