Rotterdam 2023 Review: I CAN'T STOP BITING YOU Is Remarkably Toothless

Mamoru Oshii's latest live-action film is a VERY lightweight comedy, and doesn't satisfy.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2023 Review: I CAN'T STOP BITING YOU Is Remarkably Toothless
It would be an understatement to say I am a fan of Japanese director Mamoru Oshii's work. His 1995 anime adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is my most-owned film (even this article on my incurable double-dipping of that title is outdated already...), and few people in cinema can touch my buttons like he does. That doesn't mean, however, that I can easily recommend him to other people. The man knows how to make commercially viable cinema when pressured to do so, but when left unchecked he creates baffling works of personal art, where he himself seems to be the only intended audience.

And so it seems to be with his newest live-action film I Can't Stop Biting You, a loose adaptation of his own anime series Vlad Love. A high school comedy, this is by far the most lightweight thing the director has done in decades. It was shown at the International Film Festival Rotterdam though, and it's rare to get to see live-action Oshii in a cinema, so I had a look...

IFFR-ICantStopBitingYou-ext1.jpgIn the film we follow a group of schoolgirls who have formed, as is customary in Japanese schools, a student club around their favorite activity. Their subject is a bit unusual though, as the club members are obsessed with the act of donating blood, something which is encouraged by the similarly blood-obsessed school nurse Chihiro. One day a mysterious European-looking girl wanders into the donation station, but the moment people try to draw her blood she goes into a rage tantrum, demolishes the room, and flees. The club members find her asleep outside the school and, intrigued, bring her to the club room. There they discover that the girl, called Mai Vlad Transylvania, is a centuries-old friendly vampire who is starving.

Delighted, the club adopts her and its members donate their own blood to keep the vampire healthy. But is having a real vampire around a good idea? Just how dangerous is Mai? Can she be trusted to control her lusts as she grows stronger and stronger on her friends' blood? And what is nurse Chihiro secretly planning to do with the vampire?

Oshii's anime series wasn't received all that well, so you might wonder what influenced him to make a live-action version of it. Perhaps the two projects were intermingled financially, and one was necessary to create the other? Maybe the fluffy comedy was seen as a possible break-out project for teenage popstar Nina Hillman, who plays the vampire? Who knows, though Nina is carefully kept out of the marketing campaigns. She's not on the poster or in the trailer, and finding a screenshot of her isn't easy. Vampires and camera's, aye? Though I distinctly remember seeing her while watching the film...

Who IS in the film's trailer (and indeed in the film), is Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki. A former journalist and producer, Suzuki only has a few live-action acting credits on his name, all in films directed by Mamoru Oshii, so maybe it's not that surprising that he is seen in this film. Both men are known to talk trash about each other in the press so they must be good friends. Here, Suzuki briefly shows up as the school's director, participates in a Basic Instinct joke, and is gone again.

It is one of only a few notable moments in the entire film. The other ones are, on the good side, Oshii doing highly stylized half-animated flashbacks of Mia's life (or undead-ness), and on the bad side, cameramen and crew inadvertently visible in the shadows of spotlights. Yes, the film is THAT sloppily made, or at best rushed out before properly finished.

As a fan of Oshii it was kinda interesting to watch. What was going on while making this? You cannot help but wonder. Regular viewers just got a very vapid comedy, weird in places, slow in places, generally low-budget in all places. The Rotterdam audiences awarded the film a meager 3.333 out of 5, and repeating numbers are considered to be very unlucky in Japan. An omen or a testament? With vampires on board, who knows...

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