Monday, 12 April 2010

Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl (2009)

A typical frame of Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl

This is another film from the director of Tokyo Gore Police, Yoshihiro Nishimura, and if you've seen that film (or even read the title) then you've probably got a pretty good idea of what to expect from this one. Here he teams up with Naoyuki Tomomatsu (the director of high-school satire/zombie flick Stacy) to create a supernatural high-school romance that is refreshingly free of sparkling vampires and abstinence propaganda. Indeed Stephenie Meyer's naive Mormon bubble-head would pop like a balloon if she saw this film, and as entertaining a sight as that would be it still wouldn't be as gory as this film. Make no mistake: this film is bloody.

Here in the West, Valentine's Day is just another excuse for mega-corporations to suck money from the pockets of men everywhere. In Japan, however, it's a special day where girls give chocolates to the guys they like. Consequently hunky dreamboat Mizushima (Takumi Saito) is given a chocolate by the shy new girl Monami (Yukie Kawamura). It has a special ingredient however, and when he eats it he starts tripping balls and sees people as walking circulatory systems. When he wakes up later in the school nurse's office he disovers that Monami is a vampire and the chocolate, which was filled with her own blood, has turned him into a half-vampire so they can live together for all eternity.

Unfortunately he is also being wooed by the spoiled, popular Keiko (Eri Otoguro), daughter of the meek and wimpy Vice Principal. What Keiko doesn't know is that her father is actually a Kabuki Dr. Frankenstein in his spare time, running a mad science laboratory in the basement of the school with the help of the sexy school nurse. His experiments on kidnapped students produce nothing but grotesque failures until he discovers the secret ingredient, a drop of Monami's vampire blood. After Keiko is murdered by Monami in a rooftop accident, he uses the opportunity to bring her back to life as a Frankenstein's monster, setting the stage for a bloody final battle on top of Tokyo Tower.

I did like the way this film turned the typical high-school love triangle on it's head. The titular fight may be over Mizushima's love, but he wants nothing to do with either of these girls. As he narrates later in the film: "And this is how the battle over love began between Vampire Girl and Frankenstein Girl. By the way, has anyone considered my feelings?" Although we end up siding with Monami by default, she's also completely insane, cheerfully murdering her rivals and anyone else who crosses her. She is also helped by her hunchbacked assistant Igor, posing as the school janitor (I don't know why he's the vampire's assistant and not Dr. Frankenstein's) and his existence is acknowledged as the sad fate of Monami's past boyfriends. It's like Let the Right One In by way of early Peter Jackson.

Although there's nothing that matches the pissing chair from Tokyo Gore Police, the film features a lot of entertaining grotesqueries. Dr. Frankenstein's vampire-powered surgery enables him to create freaks with oddities such as head-mounted propellers made from severed limbs. The school nurse gets the Bride of Frankenstein treatment, with each breast adorned by eyeballs and severed fingers. Even Igor shows up during the final battle wearing Samurai armour made from human bones and swinging a skull-crushing rib-cage like the Master of the Flying Guillotine. There's also a great fight during a flashback sequence, between Monami's mother (played by Eihi Shiina from Tokyo Gore Police) and St Francis Xavier with his "sumo from hell" armed with with blades for arms and a helmet-mounted cannon.

There's probably more of a focus on comedy here than inTokyo Gore Police or even Machine Girl. High school romance cliches are mocked with some nicely ironic use of terrible Japanese pop songs, especially during a blood-shower scene that makes the one in Tokyo Gore Police look tame and realistic. Japanese high school subcultures are also ridiculed in tasteless, Troma-esque fashion, such as the emo wrist-cutting girls (a subject already tackled in Tokyo Gore Police) who participate in the 13th Nationwide High School Student Wrist Cut Rally, the reigning champ disqualified after she accidentally cuts off her own arm.

The most uncomfortable part of the film for me was the Ganguro girls (a peculiar Japanese subculture in which girls get dark tans and wear extravagant makeup as a way rebelling against conformity), which have been exaggerated into Afro-American obsessed, Obama-quoting, spear-carrying Sambo caricatures in blackface makeup. Oh, Japan. You so crazy. Also, Ju-On director Takashi Shimizu makes an appearance as a Chinese teacher (managing to work in a plug for his film series) whose exposure to auto-emissions and factory pollution has given him super-powered lungs.

Some of the comedy may have been a little squirm-inducing, but I still liked this one. It wasn't as meandering as Tokyo Gore Police and had a shorter length that seemed just about right. Obviously you have to be in a very specific mindset to enjoy these films and willing to forgive a multitude of sins, but they seem to be getting a little better with each iteration. I'm not sure how much longer it will be until they run out of steam or I lose interest, but I'm looking forward to the next one.

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