Camera Japan Festival: VAMPIRE GIRL vs. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL Review
Last year the Camera Japan Festival showed "Tokyo Gore Police" so I was indeed hoping we'd get "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl" in the current edition. And lo and behold: recent though this title is (the line-up mostly consists of films from last year) I was in luck!
Yoshihiro Nishimura's latest slice of splattergore madness (co-helmed by the equally insane Naoyuki Tomomatsu of "Stacy" and "Zombie Defense Force" fame, who also has a writer's credit) was shown to a delighted midnight crowd.
Remarkably funny in places and far more tightly scripted than either "Tokyo Gore Police" or "The Machine Girl", "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl" proved to be a right regular crowdpleaser...
An awkward boy befriends a strange girl. She turns out to be a centuries-old vampire, yet she is the one who teaches him how to stand up against the schoolmates who bully him. In return, he is a temporary reprieve from her eternal loneliness. Yet in the end, is their mutual friendship a happy thing?
Does that synopsis sound familiar? With all of the hoopla about an upcoming American version of "Let the Right One In", people have overlooked the fact that the Japanese already have done it and the result is the zany "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl"! Thankfully it was never intended as a remake (instead the film is based on a manga by Shungiku Uchida), and a few plot-points aside the two movies couldn't be any more different.
Still, the similarities are too fun not to notice.
As in any film from the Nishimura-Iguchi stable the ultra-gore aims to amuse rather than horrify. Their specific brand of movie seems to be a tiny sub-genre that you'd expect to quickly die out because it's completely based on endlessly repeating the same joke over and over again: escalating bodily harm into the realm of the absurd can only be funny a limited amount of time, yes? And indeed, with "Tokyo Gore Police" I really thought the joke had been exploited all the way to its limits.
So I was very surprised to see Nishimura coming back with a movie that is actually a lot funnier than its predecessor. Above all else Nishimura is a lover of special effects make-up, and he extends his hobby towards some unexpected subject matter here. The most shocking and offensive jokes are actually not gore-based but involve poking fun at a group of schoolgirls who try to look black to be more "cool". The extent to which this is exaggerated is stunning, and had the audience gasp in disbelief. Maybe this doubles as a nice payback for all the fake Asians seen in many a Hollywood movie, but that probably would be overanalyzing the film a bit. Personally I was more disturbed by a Chinese character being ridiculed for being Chinese, although Nishimura is nice enough to bestow upon Beijing citizens a superpower (lungs that can handle any sort of air pollution...).
But strange as it sounds, all of the bluntly rude parody has a link with the storyline and by the end the various silly strands actually make a pretty coherent whole. Because of this, "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl" may just be the cleverest and most enjoyable film from this studio yet.
In a movie like this acting is an afterthought, as being able to read your lines and look either pretty or outrageous is all that is called for here. On the "looking pretty" side are the two leads who seem to have wandered straight in from some idols band. Takumi Saitô looks shy and non-plussed as the schoolboy heartthrob, but especially Yukie Kawamura as "Monami the Vampire Girl" is easy on the eyes as she is both very funny and very cute. Eihi Shiina of "Audition" fame has a well-judged cameo as Monami's mom, who shows us that the Segway was actually invented by Edo-era vampires as an alternate mode of transport.
I haven't seen "Robo-Geisha" yet so I could be wrong, but in my opinion "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl" is the best film Nishimura has been involved with so far, and probably his most accessible. It's irreverent and very funny, especially when seen with a jolly group of people. As such I understand Nishimura's complaint about a lack of venue support but given the niche he operates in (neo-splattergore) I'm afraid that is an issue which can't be helped.
Let's all be thankful of festivals though: "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl" is a blast.