Fantasia 2018: TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL Is A Bloody, Incoherent, Captivating Mess
Sion Sono's latest feature film is simultaneously one of his most entertaining outings, and one of his worst. To understand that dichotomy, one must first have very singular tastes. One must also understand that Tokyo Vampire Hotel, at two and a half hours, is a massively cut-down version of a six-hour-plus miniseries by the same name. The result of that edit doesn't make a lick of sense - but it's hella fun to watch.
Tokyo Vampire Hotel starts out following Manami, an unwitting chosen one in the war between the Dracula and Corvin clans, as she's recruited by the mysterious vampire agent K to fight in that very war. Their adventures take us deep underground and to the titular hotel, where the film's villain (joined by Elizabeth Bathory!) intends to trap a few hundred humans to feed on after an impending apocalypse destroys the rest of the world. With the feature's breakneck pace, it's hard to identify everyone's alignments and motivations precisely, and even if you could, it'd still be very silly, but eventually you'll just throw your hands in the air and enjoy the chaos onscreen. There's even a protagonist swap of sorts halfway through, as Manami becomes less relatable and K emerges with the strongest character arc.
As it's a feature edit of a much longer television series, Tokyo Vampire Hotel's pace is, shall we say, a touch on the hasty side. This movie moves, skating perilously close to total incoherence. After opening with multiple prologues and title crawls, it cracks straight into a restaurant massacre and barely lets up until its somewhat abrupt ending. Cutting down a narrative by such an amount clearly demanded that essentially anything not story-critical got cut, eliminating almost all character development and world-building and leaving only the scenes that push the plot along. Characters appear and disappear willy-nilly. Entire locations and elaborate sets are visited for mere minutes before being abandoned. Continuity between scenes and even within scenes is more or less nonexistent. It's a ride, alright.
And what a ride! The movie goes to some truly bonkers places: underground salt mines that connect cities on opposite sides of the earth; humans forced to mate in order to produce more blood-cows for vampirekind; oddly blissful flashbacks set in Transylvania; a sticky wet hellscape filled with self-bleeding blood slaves. Hell, I'm pretty sure that the Vampire Hotel itself exists in a pocket dimension inside a vampire princess's vagina. It's Sion Sono's imagination let loose, then distilled into pure concentrated acid form.
By definition, the scenes left in are the scenes of greatest conflict, and thus nearly every scene in the feature cut is packed with violence - all the violence you'd expect from a six-hour Sion Sono series. Tokyo Vampire Hotel delivers magnificently over-the-top bloodletting, whether by guns (lots of guns), swords (lots of swords), knives (not quite as many knives), teeth (a fair few teeth), or claws (really just one set of claws). The film's climax, which must have spanned at least one entire episode of the show, is just a nonstop orgy of fighting, the kind that leaves characters slipping and sliding in blood.
You know what? I'm kinda glad I saw this version of Tokyo Vampire Hotel. Sure, the series probably makes more sense, but there's unique enjoyment to be had from watching something this utterly skullfuckingly deranged (not to mention seeing it with a cinema audience instead of at home). If you get the chance to see it, I recommend taking up. If not: the show's on Amazon Prime. Just fast-forward through anything resembling in-depth dialogue, and you'll accurately simulate the experience of Tokyo Vampire Hotel: The Movie.