Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
(Urban Vision, 2000)

Inspired by the fluidity and the visual intricacy of the magisterial Hayao Miyazaki, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, a Japanese anime feature (for adults as one might guess from the title), only now being released in the U.S., comes very close to the master in the high quality of its production values.

Directed and written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, based on the popular novel written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, the film depicts a far future setting in which beleaguered humans live a "retro" existence in scattered settlements (possibly located somewhere in Europe) with remnants of technology.

Against a dwindling but still powerful race of vampires, mortals fight for survival with the help of a dubious champion, the protagonist, known simply as "D." The son of a vampire father and a human mother -- a combination called a dunpeal in the movie's terminology -- D (speaking in the rich, intentionally unemotional baritone voice of Andrew Philpot) is dramatically dressed in somber garb, a flowing black cape and broad-brimmed hat and rides a fierce-looking ebony stallion. An archetypal outcast, loner type (reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's "spaghetti westerns"), D struggles to balance his humanist attitudes with the blood lust equally a part of his nature, this being embodied imaginatively (literally) in his left hand in the form of a garrulous sentient demon-face (Mike McShane), a creature that never lets our anti-hero forget his undead connections.

Elbourne, a wealthy rancher, hires the protagonist to rescue his only daughter Charlotte (Wendee Lee), a seemingly innocent ingenue abducted by the vampire Meier Link (John Rafter Lee), who affects the hairstyle and clothing of an 18th century French aristocrat. Charlotte's father, ensuring against failure, also employs a rival team of mercenaries, the Markus brothers Borgoff (Matt McKenzie) and Nolt (John Dimaggio), who work with the athletic, tough-gal Leila (Pamela Segall), who hunts vampires to avenge the murder of her parents. The Markus siblings' crew also includes a powerful warrior of African origin and a mysterious sickly youth who fights with his glowing astral body. Their colorful outfits resemble those of comic book superheroes.

The competing bounty hunters become the hunted in thrilling, supernaturally-tinged battles of tech vs. vampire magic and the undead's scary allied entities until only D and Leila survive to form an interesting and empathetic relationship. Together they face the inevitable showdown with Meier, Charlotte (who was a rather willing captive all along) and Carmila (Julie Fletcher), ruler of the vampires. The climax occurs within Carmila's stronghold, the Castle of Chaythe, a vast gothic Ghormengast-like structure where fascinating revelations make the antagonists refreshingly dimensional and believably motivated while the plot concludes with some interesting twists.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, with intricately detailed settings rich in atmosphere, beautifully contrasts the brooding threats of night with the sunlit or rainy scenarios of day. This plus sophisticated designs for intriguing characters, helps the movie manage to make its blend of gothic, western and SF elements work effectively. Distinguished by a lovely, dramatic score perfectly complementing the gorgeous visuals that dazzle despite some graphic violence, this exciting, spine-tingling dark fantasy and SF anime feature must not be missed by mature fans of horror, animation or anyone looking for guaranteed chills and thrills.

[ by Amy Harlib ]
Rambles: 10 November 2001



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