VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST
directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri runs Nov. 30-Dec. 6 at Varsity
WHEN ARTISTS borrow imagery across culture lines, wonderful things can happen. Whistler's discovery of Japanese wood block prints laid the table for Impressionism's banquet; Hayao Miyazaki's visit to the decaying mining towns of modern Wales produced the magic factoryscapes of his animated masterpiece Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
But the magic doesn't happen when the borrowing isn't backed by a need for new visual vocabulary to express new feelings or sensations. Vampire Hunter D proves Yoshiaki Kawajiri to be one mother of a pop-culture borrower. Dracula and The Man with No Name, Sgt. Rock and Rocky Horror—they're all here. But none of his borrowings in this new anime seem motivated by anything but a need to fill up the screen, to veil a vacant imagination with vacuous dazzle.
Vampire is a kind of sequel to a 1985 anime about a human-vampire bounty hunter hired to save a maiden from the fate of the undead. In the new film, though, the girl can't wait to be bitten, so most of the action feels like filler before the climactic confrontation between hunter and hunted.
I found the sex-and-gore sensibility of Kawajiri's 1995 Ninja Scroll deeply repellent, but it at least seemed to express what turned the filmmaker's own crank. Here, maybe because he's been told to avoid an X rating, Kawajiri seems entirely uninvolved with the material. He fills the screen with the hackneyed impedimenta of vampirism; so many crosses and crucifixes fly by in some sequences that it feels like watching a movie through a chain-link fence. But they're just graphics, carrying no emotional weight.
Moreover, it looks like somebody has meddled with Vampire on it way to the American market. The narrative breaks down completely about half an hour before the end. Careless cutting of some 10 minutes has made it seem 20 minutes longer.