Tokyo Vampire Hotel has a scene in which a legless Geisha vampire who feeds people to the hotel through her vagina laughs maniacally as a fountain of blood streams from an open wound into her mouth and heavy metal music pulses and pounds in the background. That’s really all you need to know.
Tokyo Vampire Hotel
Director: Sion Sono
Release Date: July 31th, 2018 (Fantasia)
Manami (Ami Tomite) is a young woman celebrating her 22nd birthday. She’s not long at a bar with some friends before a woman marches in and blasts most of the group away with a machine gun. Soon, others break in and kill this woman, but before they do so, she hands Manami three cards. These three cards are related to her vampire lineage. How? I’m not really sure. The cards seem really important at the beginning, with crews fighting and chasing after Manami and a deadly member of the Dracula family known as K (Kaho) while trying to regain them. As the movie hurdles itself forward, however, a lot of details are lost if not obliterated.
And honestly, that’s for the best. The setup is straight garbage. There’s nonsense about warring vampire families, the Draculas (obviously) and the Corvins. The Corvins beat the Draculas long ago and trapped that clan underground. Manami was fed some ancient vampire blood as a baby, which begins to activate on her 22nd birthday, and she’s been chosen to help overthrow the Corvins, so the Draculas can reclaim their rightful place in the world. It’s all that chosen one, lore-heavy nonsense that exists simply to get us where we need to go. Thankfully, Sono has about as much interest in it as his viewers, and he scraps and ignores it with gleeful abandon.
Most of this stuff is heaped into the first half of the film, which does gum up the machinery a bit. There are still blasts of action and violent absurdity to keep the viewer engaged, but Sono was clearly holding onto his budget for the second half, so the choreography and effects can feel flimsy. Like I said, there’s still enough weird fun to keep you going, but if the entirety of Tokyo Vampire Hotel was like the opening stretch, there would be little reason to recommend it. When all the major players finally make it into the hotel, however, it’s like really cool, you guys. It becomes the coolest vampire movie I’ve ever seen.
The hotel itself is as strange looking and bizarrely laid out as the Overlook with hallways that could have come from a 60’s bowling alley all done in stripes of primary colors. A huge fountain spills in the main lobby with two curved staircases running to a railed second-floor landing. Sono uses this landing later to recreate the finale from Scarface, but with Tony Montana as a vampire, and watching that was the only moment in my life in which I was happy to have seen Scarface.
The characters themselves are a mixture of ancient, retro, and present decadence. You have the Tony Montana vampire in a pink gangster suit. You have a Japanese Elizabeth Bathory in Victorian dress. You also have the humans staying at the hotel, who are dressed in modern suits and gowns.
Everyone’s at the hotel, by the way, because they think they’re going to get paid a lot of money in a sex competition. Then, they’re told they’ll have to live at the hotel forever and then showed footage of the world ending all around them. Then, they’re forced at gunpoint to have sex by the staff.
When the Draculas storm the hotel from their underground tunnels and attack, this gives the humans a chance to fight, as well, and what’s left is a solid hour-and-a-half of pure hell breaking loose. There are at least thirty decapitations, with K rushing through whipping her blade like The Bride from Kill Bill. Everyone is drenched in blood. The floor is so slick with that sweet red that characters end up sliding on the viscera. There’s an underground tunnel packed with people stabbing themselves to make blood for the vampires as part of the hotel. People plunge swords into the walls, and the building gushes rivers of blood. This is the heavy metal music video come to life that Rob Zombie wishes he could make. It’s a joy, a revelation. I couldn’t love it more.
Sono’s other work blends the violent and the outrageous with layers of human drama to pull it together. Here, the story is too sweeping and the cast too big for empathy to build through the insanity, but Sono fills that lack with pointed anti-fascist themes. The hotel is a dictatorship with staff dressed in military uniforms forcing people to have sex so that the rich owners can feed off their young, there are clear allusions to the French Revolution (did I mention all the decapitations), and even though the main story focuses on two warring vampire families, it’s the mortals who risk everything to fight back.
Tokyo Vampire Hotel is a technical mess. Its editing is shoddy, special effects can look cheap, has pacing issues and a lopsided plot. It’s a far cry from perfect. It’s also a freewheeling, violent rapture of film that transcends all of its imperfections and is better for them. I wouldn’t want to see a single one of its frames changed.