Blood: The Last Vampire
Every time animation technology takes a step forward, the script quality of animated films seems to take an equally large step backward. Cases in point: the gorgeous but vapid Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the ambitious but narratively lurching Titan A.E., and Disney's visually dynamic but structurally bland Tarzan and Dinosaur. Each movie introduced radical innovations in computer-assisted animation, and each also offered up a generic, paint-by-numbers plot. The latest addition to the list is the highly anticipated Blood: The Last Vampire, the newest brainchild of Ghost In The Shell writer-director Mamoru Oshii. Billed as Japan's first all-digital animated film, Blood was created through a unique process that integrated hand-drawn cels with digital backgrounds and allowed both to be overlaid with light and shadow. The result is a visually vivid, highly textured movieif it's fair to apply that term to a 48-minute chunk of disassociated plotlinethat sets up scene after scene of jaw-dropping images in the service of a story that begins nowhere and ends a good ways short of nowhere. In Blood's opening sequence, a glowering teenage girl with a sword murders a passenger on a subway train, then confronts her tense handlers, who direct her to her next target. The identity and nature of the victim, the killer, and her employers are never resolved; instead, Blood follows the killer, Saya (Youki Kudoh), to her next assignment and through a flurry of stunning but groundless action sequences, as she fights a series of mysterious, powerful vampiric creatures called "chiropterans" who have infiltrated an American Air Force base on Japanese soil. The script and the film's title offer vague reasons to believe Saya is a vampire herself, "the last original," but the specifics of her connection to the green-skinned, shape-changing chiropterans are yet another issue Blood never addresses. Blood ties into an Oshii novel and a video game, which goes a long way toward explaining the movie's incomplete, recondite nature; the choppy, perfunctory making-of documentary that appears on the DVD also helps fill in the blanks. To the artists and artisans working on Blood, the film appears to have been more a technical project than anything else. In effect, it's a show reel three years in the making, an extended advertisement for an animation process and the tie-in products. On that level, it succeeds. But it also succeeds in further lowering the narrative bar for animated movies, illustrating yet again that the entertainment-by-committee nature of animation is too often at odds with the singular vision that makes for good storytelling.