Talk about a clash of Japanese movie icons old and new. In Blood: The Last Vampire, a beautiful 16-year-old girl dressed in a virginal sailor dress and penny loafers slays hordes of bad men with her lethal samurai sword. School girls and sword play, two evergreen fanboy-cinematic obsessions collide in this fluid-filled splatter-fest, pitting growling, red-eyed vampires against an adorably pigtailed slayer Saya (Korean actress Gianna Jun), whose grave countenance makes perky Buffy look like a lightweight.
The product of a mortal and a vampire hook-up, the unsmiling, dour Saya is understandably conflicted about her "halfling" status. The only thing that has given her a sense of purpose over the course of the last 400 years is slicing and dicing vampires with the knife skills of a Top Chef.
When Blood: The Last Vampire opens, Saya has been sent by a mysterious Council (a clutch of dullard white guys in black suits) to an American army post in Tokyo to sniff out the vampires who have taken shelter on the base. Her first targets are the snotty teenage girls who torment the commanding general's daughter Alice (Allison Miller) at the local high school. You can tell a vampire by looking into their eyes and discerning the lack of a soul, though the snake pit of high school surely complicates that mission. Defiant Army brat Alice becomes Saya's human helpmate after Saya saves her from a goring by two vampire mean girls. The pair engage in some girl-power bonding while fleeing from vampires who shape-shift into flying demons with a gothic gargoyle-meets-an-H.R. Giger-alien look.
Besides an opening scroll that sets the stakes of the drama, background is kept to a minimum in Blood: The Last Vampire because, in a sense, we already know the story. Vampire slayer Saya is motivated by the usual desire for vengeance. The vampire boss-lady responsible for Saya's father's death is the glamorous Onigen (real life model Koyuki), who seems to feel no compunction about smashing skulls into messy grape jelly despite her pristine wardrobe of white gowns.
French director Chris Nahon has clearly seen his share of classic films noir from the '40s and '50s. Despite the 1970 Vietnam-era setting of Blood: The Last Vampire, in which the American War plays second fiddle to the vampire one, the look of Blood is more Asphalt Jungle than Full Metal Jacket. Nahon stocks his vampire fantasy with men in fedoras, plenty of rain-slicked streets, and murky cinematography that makes the film look like it was shot from inside a bottle of rye.
Because it is an unremittingly blunt genre exercise, Blood will have limited crossover appeal beyond its fanboy base. A remake of Hiroyuki Kitakubo's 2001 cult anime film, Blood has the plodding, labored feel of a story trapped in two-dimensions and characters who are all surface. What passes for storyline here is glowering looks and endless fight scenes that have all the thrill-value of C-Span. The humor-impaired, one-note gravitas suggests the comparable airless, squaresville rhythms of porn. The dialogue scenes, full of cardboard emoting, are a kind of filler meant to get viewers to the good stuff. In Blood instead of sex, the "good stuff" is gory, limb-chopping swordplay fetishistically rendered with CGI-splatters of slo-mo blood that hang in the air like lava lamp innards.
But the blood has more dimension than the characters. And unless minimal subtext and constant slaughter are your thing, Blood: The Last Vampire can be quite a slog.