Tokyo Vampire Hotel is a 142-minute bloodsucker royal rumble – cut down from roughly 390 minutes of Amazon’s original Japanese series – almost entirely located inside an almighty princess’ “nether region.” Are you tuning out after that sentence? Don’t. Writer and director Sion Sono’s (kinda) got this. The man behind Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, Cold Fish and Tokyo Tribe (to name only a few) knows his way around extended runtimes and maximum discombobulation. The weirder, grander, and zanier, the better suited to Sono’s methodologies (Tokyo Vampire Hotel is no different). Prepare yourself for warfare carnage sticky enough to make Blade blush. Mr. Sono, are there no boundaries you’d consider setting ablaze?
From what we can decipher, there’s an age-old rivalry between Dracula and Corvin vampire tribes. Corvins drove the Dracula puritans underground in Romania – into tunnels that might or might not lead to Japan – allowing Corvins free topside reign. That’s until 21-year-old Manami (Tomite Ami) is informed by Dracula agent “K” (Kaho) she was chosen at birth to defeat the Corvin scourge. Corvin leaders invite 100 Japanese civilians into their hotel with promises of pre-apocalypse sex-soiree coupling, which is precisely where Manami and “K” plan on ending their faction’s long-standing feud. But, how did outsiders enter without noticing certain feminine surroundings? Also, does the action take place in Romania, Japan, or between? Nothing is really spelled out.
Cut to the “Tokyo Vampire Hotel” title card 42 minutes into Sono’s bizarrely baffling production.
From an introductory izakaya massacre to inner vaginal blood orgies, Sono escalates mayhem with a smile. Manami’s first abductor is a J-Pop sweetheart whose fluffy pink kitten neck-wrap softens not her squeaky message that all witnesses must die (gunshot if you’re lucky, 30 fork stabs if you talk back) – and that’s, like, 10 minutes in. If even. Blood squirts out of sliced stomachs, decapitated neck stumps, and thirsty mouths like there was a Costo premium on fake bodily fluids. K, in full “Bride” mode a la Kill Bill, ignites a mortals vs. vamps revolution inside hotel boundaries that lasts for what has to be forty-five consecutive minutes. Corpses split head-to-crotch sloppy, K slicing flesh like butter, constant brutality…even the walls spew blood in Sono’s sanguine finale.
Of course, for battles to wage forward we need suitable reason. Sono tries to chop nine previously aired episodes into a flowing narrative and it’s a mixed bag. Characters come and go with little development, from the Prime Minister’s son who was traded for election victory to K’s old Romanian lover Nora to Mr. Head Dracula. Princess Crater-Between-The-Legs, a “Mother” Corvin who keeps rapidly de-aging, planets aligning in a “Grand Cross” – all of it so haphazardly tethered until we actually reach the hotel. Then things simplify a tad. Vampires need to feed during doomsday and mortals think they’re getting a kinky swinger’s party until Dracula’s minions crash the Corvin-led bash. Killswitch, engage!
Amidst all the vampiric shadow incinerations and fanged transformations exists social subtext. As a Corvin “Scarface” boss figure watches humans murder his entire hotel staff, he goes on about how mankind believes they’re the “kind” ones despite immediate deference towards immorality. We – Sono’s audience – instinctively sympathize with the kidnapped innocents tricked by Corvin propaganda, but end-credits suggest maybe we shouldn’t. After all the fighting subsides, human males are seen gratifying themselves with vampire women. Executing kneeling vampires in a single-file line. Chanting lusty war cries while hoisting severed heads stuck to dirtied swords to replicate pyres. Sono favors an ol’ switcheroo right after the film’s focal villains embrace defeat so humanity can continue as “egotists and hypocrites” in our massive shithole world. The Corvins promised 100-years of lovemaking, life, and sustenance with only blood withdrawal as a trade. An unfair trade given apocalyptic alternatives?
Or, was Japan *really* destroyed as shown on Corvin projectors? Nope. Not going down another rabbit hole.
Tokyo Vampire Hotel covers every inch of lens and locale with spilled redness, but before messiness becomes the norm, Sono’s design team invites us into a lavish, colorful lodge. Two curved entryway staircases lead to a second floor where royalty descends from; hallways striped with green, yellow, orange and blue. Sono plays with multiple lighting filters – black and white, low-grade-mm grit as well – before entering cavernous, draping walls where the Princess’ chamber hides. A stylish, flashy affair staged as a massive slaughterhouse to mix style with chunky, slippery substance. Victorian costumes, nu-age gangster swagger, and all the cold-steel trimmings. What a fetching backdrop for gratuitous genre mayhem.
When you sign up for a Sion Sono feature, certain concessions are to be made with expectations abound. The storytelling aspects of Tokyo Vampire Hotel may be more unhinged than Sono’s cleaner efforts, but third-act intensity drives home a most memorable midnight mutilation spree that’s damn-near unstoppable once started. Dominoes fall into place as the corpse count stacks sky-high, burying questions and curiosities that might previously distract from full immersion. Just imagine Yakuza-brand violence except there’s a lot more writing sexual groans, Goth vamps, undead body parts kicked around and one seriously primal “Chosen One.”
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10