Some of our topics are those we know we want to cover even before we sit down to map out each month’s posts. And some of them come as we look at what’s been left out and what, in the moment, we are saddest to leave out. This is one of the latter. To make sure that this and my other posts were made with the content fresh in mind, I watched loads and loads and loads of things. Aside from being awesome for its own sake, I learned a little about my own tastes and found some threads between things I might not have otherwise. No complaints here.
Last week, I told you a little about my tastes and I pointed you at some of my favourite English language vampire films that you might not have seen. I mentioned there that it was lacking a few titles to make it my comprehensive favourites list. Some of those missing weren’t major cinematic releases (at least not, as far as I know, in English-speaking countries), and those are listed here.
Today, I want to take a look at vampires through the lens of some non-English language media. Seven films and one programme…yikes! But still not every possible thing, because the whole world has vampire stories to tell. I find that the less culturally familiar expectations, ideologies, and thoughts of such films and programmes can increase the escapism of a piece. So, let’s escape with some bloodsuckers who don’t speak our language.
I’m going to opine a bit, so I ought to remind you that vampire stuff is a matter of taste. Last week’s post about English language independent vampire films I really adore should have given you a better idea of what I prefer. It may help you decide whether my tastes are applicable to your viewing habits. Most of what I’m including here is stuff I rather enjoyed. Some of it was…mediocre. I know myself well enough to have avoided things that I was likely to find thoroughly uninteresting.
Note: I would really have liked to have seen A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and include it here, but I haven’t had a chance. Good to have something left on my media to-do list though, right? (I also tried but failed to get my hands on Frostbiten with English subtitles, but it’s funny, so maybe for the best….)
Update: Just before the month ended, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night showed up on Netflix. Hurrah! I’m not going to bulk up an already long post, but see this one. (And find me the soundtrack, okay?) Another great female vampire in a Persian film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Persian film before…
Let the Right One In (or Låt den rätte komma in): Sweden
This was one of the first few things that came to mind when I chose this angle on the topic. I loved this film. For those of you unfamiliar, this is, basically, a coming of age story—you know, the type where a young protagonist meets his first love…and she happens to be a young girl-sized vampire called Eli (pronounced like “Ellie,” English speakers). Re-watching this time, I was struck by Eli’s obvious upset after having to feed herself and the way that she knows better than to be involved with a human but can’t help herself. The film is broody and moody (and quite a number of scenes occur in places that are woody), and proves that I don’t need my vampire to be someone attractive to and age-appropriate for me. I normally wouldn’t care much for a coming of age film…but they put in vampires and made it something that I will watch on purpose and without anyone else suggesting it. Maybe because the normal adolescent feelings aren’t something I want to deal with unless there’s a supernatural angle to make the intensity and ill-fitting-ness feel like it’s appropriate to the situation. (Though I do love when a film manages to remind you that it might actually not be cool to live forever, especially if you had to live forever on the threshold of puberty. Ugh.) Or maybe I just can’t think anything is sweet unless it involves a bloodsucking creature of the night.
Vampire Princess Miyu (or 吸血姫(ヴァンパイア) 美夕): Japan
I hadn’t seen this anime in years, but it was another that quickly came to mind for this list. I didn’t remember anything other than thinking Miyu, our vampire lead, was adorable and that she had a habit of giggling. The internet tells me that there were two versions of this made. The 1988 version, also known as the OVA (short for original video animation) has the giggling. It also has only 4 episodes and a less cute, darker story arc. I’m focusing here on the longer (26 episodes total) 1997 version, though I enjoyed and recommend both.
Miyu isn’t your standard Western vampire with your standard goals. It’s not spoiling anything if I tell you she’s a young girl (or appears to be) and she’s our heroine, fighting a different supernatural foe (that’s her fate) each episode. It starts out seeming pretty light, but takes some turns for the darker and more complicated. (I wouldn’t say this is for kids…teens and older, maybe? If you liked Serial Experiments Lain, one of the main creators of that was, apparently, a force in this as well. Though this doesn’t get nearly as surreal as Lain.) I don’t know that I think it’s incredible, but it was enjoyable and steps outside the usual in a manner preferable to some of the others I watched in this vampire binge. For those of you who love cute schoolgirl plots in your anime (plots that, so we’re clear, don’t get sexual), there’s some of that in here for you. Plus, here’s another vampire who goes out in the sun. Always a bonus for me.
We Are the Night (or Wir sind die Nacht): Germany
As with the previous two, this film was quickly added to my list of subtitled delights. I know I’ve (unintentionally) mainly stuck to female vampires so far this month, but for those of you who want vampires you can ogle, at least the vampires in this one aren’t kids. Though one of the things I’m sure I’m subconsciously enjoying is the way that being vampires finally seems to give some less-privileged people a chance at being empowered and not at the mercy of men and a male-centred society. Yeah, I went there. But I’m just dipping my toe in “there.” Unlike the four women at the centre of this film. They’re definitely enjoying the vampiric traits that helped them out from under the gender-based oppressions of the times they lived in. Which isn’t to say that this film is just for the women, definitely not, but that they might enjoy some bits of it a little more. That said, other cool features of this film…We get a glimpse at the world as if seeing it via a vampire’s eyes. We get to see the aspects that, as one character notes, every woman would kill for, but we also get to see some of the downsides (we aren’t being sold a feminist utopia). We get to watch them teach a newbie what she can do, so we get shots of fun abilities being tried out that might not have come up normally. This lets the filmmaker show us their vision of what vampires are like. I love little touches like seeing the transformation that comes from being turned into a vampire or the unique “kickback” from administering the changing bite rather than the killing bite. We get to see a range of personalities and levels of acceptance of their nature and their peers’ actions in our vampires. As a fan of individualism, I appreciate that each of our four vampires has their own personality rather than one homogeneous take on their species. There’s death, brutality, and a little gore right alongside beauty, yearning, and a glimmer of hope for the humanity of the inhuman. (This more than most others caused me to get really hung up on the question of how vampires would primp. Because I can’t buy into my own inevitable future as a vampire if I don’t know how I’ll keep myself made up the way I like.)
As noted last week, whilst they’re quite different films, I think this would pair well with Byzantium for those of you who like to do double features.
Night Watch (or Ночной дозор): Russia
Before we get to the vampires, I want to make sure to mention the fine job done on the subtitles for this film. That’s not sarcasm, either. Having now watched quite a number of subtitled films all in a row, I’ve seen all sorts of good and bad examples. And they’ve made sure that the subtitles on this one are part of the film. They’re a bloody work of art, and I want you to appreciate that. So, aside from subtitles…This film is a sort of gritty, modern fairytale about power, on a personal and a societal level (but not in the sort of moralising way that will take away the fun). The vampires in this one are a mixed lot and commonplace. Few, if any, are living the life of pampered, superior beings. Plot-wise, it’s probably helpful to know that this is based on the first in a pentalogy of books. You are going to get something of a cliffhanger. In good news, the cinematic plan (and, no, I don’t know if it covers all 5 books) was for only two films. Hunt down Day Watch and you’re sorted. (I made sure to re-watch that as well to confirm there were no relevant, tasty bits for this post. There were not, but that doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t watch the film. You should.) The real stand out thing for me with these vampires is that they can send out a call for their victims so they don’t have to go hunting (somewhat similar to what the lead vampire in the second—and truly horrible—Lost Boys film could do). And they can see themselves in mirrors sometimes. For this one, even if you’re not huge on vampires, I’d say check it out to enjoy the larger supernatural world it shows is imposed on the one in which we live.
Rigor Mortis (or 殭屍): China
Initially, I wondered if I’d misunderstood and this was actually a ghost story. Instead, it is one of the most alien of all the things I watched or read for this month and probably also the grimmest. I’m sure my very limited familiarity with the culture made it creepier, but maybe there are creepy implications I missed because of that? Either way, I’m glad I watched…but I’m not sure what I can tell you without spoilers. A retired actor moves into (what seems to me) a run-down building where sinister things are afoot. Not a film for my easily scared friends, but I’m calling it a must-see for my other vampire-loving mates. And don’t be like me and multi-task, because you might miss some really well-done visuals, some of which are nicely subtle.
I should mention that the very end made me angry. Which makes me extra angry, because poor endings can ruin entire films…Though the way it’s described in the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, I might be reading the intent of the last scene incorrectly. Totally possible given my limited cultural perspective, so I’m going to believe that…(Check Wikipedia if the very end also made you angry because you thought they were using an over-used cop-out of a trope.) Wikipedia also tells me that this was an homage to the Mr. Vampire films, of which the lead actor in Rigor Mortis was the lead. So there’s likely loads more I’d have appreciated if I’d seen the Mr. Vampire films…
Strigoi: United Kingdom/Romania
This one, I acknowledge, is a little bit of a stretch (strigoi aren’t technically the same thing as vampires and the film is written in English). But! Strigoi are vampire-like creatures from Romanian folklore and are one of the inspirations for Dracula, the film takes place in Romania and uses Romanian actors, and the writer’s husband is Romanian (and she wrote this in English because she knew her Romanian wasn’t good enough for the wordplay and slang that are such a part of the language). This film about a young man who returns to his village to find things aren’t quite right is billed as a comedy, but I find that aspect of it subtle and well-done, so don’t let that put you off if, like me, you find vampire comedies don’t often work for you. There are actually scenes that I wouldn’t think of as comic if it weren’t for the music during them. It was during this film that I finally realised that the thing where a new vampire who doesn’t know what they are but just feels hungry, so hungry, and doesn’t know why is one of the normal experiences for many vampires. They (vampires in general) are beings of hunger. Hungry for blood, often hungry for other corporeal delights (quite often symbols of sexual hunger), and emotionally hungry (for companionship or revenge or thrills if they’ve been around long enough for the boredom to kick in). For the strigoi, the only real benefit to their condition seems to be immortality. There are some interesting twists and definitely a perspective on the topic that’s not like the others I watched. One of its non-standard ideas (though not entirely unheard of) is that some are born vampires and others become vampires after they die. As in Night Watch, we have a range of types of vampires, mainly not living in anything at all near luxury.
Here’s another unique take on what it takes to become a vampire and what it’s like to be one. It’s Guillermo del Toro, so you already know this isn’t going to be a suave and sexy kind of vampire story. And, really, when it’s a bug to blame for vampirism, can it be sexy? (And, really, when it’s Guillermo del Toro, a bug seems like a pretty unspectacular creature…) Extra un-sexy to me when it’s a bug that’s not biting anyone I’d consider age-appropriate. For me, this was enjoyable but not in a “you must see this!!!” way. Probably not something I’d watch again.
Thirst (or 박쥐): Korea
This was the other film that I watched that was, for me, mediocre. A priest becomes a vampire due to a disease. He keeps the core of his personality and morality, but finds it challenged by the physiological changes and demands that come with being a vampire. It also has some of the least sexy sexual stuff that I think was supposed to be sexy. Maybe it’s a cultural difference. I don’t know…but the person who made these choices is definitely not invited to have sex with me (nor is anyone who finds these scenes sexy…we are clearly on different pages). Also possibly a cultural issue is that I kept wondering if some of this was supposed to be funny. I’m honestly not trying to mock it…I’m just baffled and, in spite of the fact that I feel like this had some promise, it didn’t really click with me. I watch plenty of long films, but something in this one (the erratic pacing or maybe just a story that wasn’t sufficiently engaging) had me feeling very done at only an hour in. (I looked at the clock, sure it must be wrapping up, found I had an hour left, and was filled with dread.) This one gets the award for Least Good Result In Spite Of Plenty Of Potential. Or something less wordy.