(Kyuketsuki Hanta D)
Director/Art Direction – Toyoo Ashida, English Language Version Directed/Produced/Adapted by Carl Macek, Screenplay – Yasushi Hirano, English Language Dialogue Written by Tom Wyner, Based on the Comic Book Created by Hideyuki Kikuchi, Producers – Hiroshi Kato, Mitsuhisa Koeda & Yukio Nagasaki, Music Supervisor – Noriyoshi Matsuura, Character Design – Yoshitaka Amano. Production Company – Ashi Productions.
It is many years after the holocaust. After she is bitten by a vampire, young Doris Lang begs the help of the mysterious, rarely-speaking vampire hunter known only as D. Killing the vampire that infected her is the only way to save her but D finds the vampire in question is Magnus Lee, a powerful vampire thousands of years old.
Vampire Hunter D is an anime film that has developed a modest cult. It suggests a conceptual blend of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name (or the lead character in Stephen King’s Gunslinger series) and Marvel Comics’ Blade. The film is based on a series of Japanese novels, which consists of 27 books since 1983. These have also been adapted into videogames and a manga series.
This film version came out just at the time when the revolution in graphic novels was taking comic-books away from the Comic Book Code and along grimmer and darker paths. The title character would make perfect material for a modern Western graphic novel series – D is the same dark, nihilistic, monosyllabic avenger of the modern graphic novel typified by Batman, Spawn, Judge Dredd, The Crow and The Punisher. He even looks the perfect modern comic-book antihero – roaming the post-holocaust landscape on a white steed, his face never seen, hidden behind a giant-sized fedora and bandana and saying less than a dozen words throughout.
The middle of the film features a wonderfully hallucinatory journey across wasted landscapes into the chief vampire’s labyrinthine castle and through encounters with a menagerie of slugs, giants, mutants that can warp time and space (thus impaling the hero’s sword thrusts inside his own body) and three-headed hydra snake-women. Typically of Japanime, the film is amazingly gory with numerous severed limbs, bifurcated bugs and knives impaled in eyeballs.
On the minus side, the story is slight. After the fabulous journey that takes up the middle of the film, the rest, especially the showdown with the chief vampire, is anticlimactic in comparison. Part of the problem here is that the vampire threat amounts to little – he is merely a stuffed figure in a cape uttering vague threats and never a character of menace. The animation is also limited and the dubbing occasionally flat.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000) was a more elaborately animated and superior sequel.
This was the first full-length film from Toyoo Ashida who elsewhere directed all the episodes of the anime tv series Fist of the North Star (1984-88) and then the feature film version Fist of the North Star (1986), plus one other film with The Ultimate Teacher (1991).