Tokyo Vampire Hotel is a slightly older Sion Sono project. I usually keep well up to date with his work, only this one started out as a series, with a film cut appearing afterwards. Since I'm not a big fan of (limited) series, I decided to wait until the film cut became more widely available. That turned out to take a little longer than expected. But good things come to those who wait, and I'm glad I held out for so long. Tokyo Vampire Hotel is a worthy addition to Sono's oeuvre and with all the crazy of an entire series condensed into a 150-minute film, you better come prepared.
Series are the natural territory of writers, not directors. There are few live action series that carry a true signature, and traditionally a lot of time is spent on character exploration and narrative exposure. With that in mind, I was a little apprehensive of Sono's Tokyo Vampire Hotel. Though Sono couldn't fully do away with the film's origins, it's abundantly clear that he didn't care much for traditional expectations and plastered his directorial stamp all over the project. I can't really compare the two since I haven't seen the series cut yet, but there's no doubt that the result is truly unique.
Sono doesn't shy away from the classic vampire origin story (he even added some Romanian segments), just don't expect to see a typical Gothic vampire flick. The vampires In Tokyo Vampire Hotel look nothing like their European/American counterparts, and Sono added plenty of weird lore of his own. That begs the question of why he even bothered with the entire vampire setup. He could've just as easily gone for some nondescript evil and have them fight it out among each other, on the other hand, the Romanian angle does add a little extra flavor to the film.
The Corvins are vampires who upstaged the Dracula clan long ago, starting an age-long feud between the two families. The Dracula clan is planning their revenge, for that, they need to get to Manami, a kid who was imbued with vampire blood right after birth. K, a vampire of the Dracula clan, is the first one to reach Manami, who at that time is still blissfully unaware of her special affliction. It's not easy to keep Manami in check and when she ends up at a mysterious party in Hotel Requiem (a hotel run by the Corvins clan), K has no other choice than to enter the den of the enemy.
As the film is a direct extract from the series, I feared there would be a big impact on the visuals. I must say that Sono really came through on this point. While you may notice a tiny lack of visual polish in places (mostly color and lighting that aren't always as striking as they could've been), there is no doubt this project is the result of a singular creator and few (if any) compromises were made in getting his vision to the screen. Bold use of color, excessive costume and set designs, superb camera work and sharp editing make sure your eyes won't know where to look first. A visual feast from start to finish.
The score too is very cool, though Sono made it a little harder on himself than needed. He starts the film with a "turn the volume up" message that raised expectations, but I don't think he quite managed to make good on them. The soundtrack is a mix of raw(er) music styles, some (hard)rock and thumping electronic tracks, but it doesn't really go beyond the limits of film music. It's not as if Sono is suddenly incorporating crazy industrial or obscure metal (genres which would've really benefitted from the increased volume). Other than that, I have no major complaints about the score.
Though she's not quite the lead character, Kaho (as K) is the one who leaves the biggest impression. She has been working really hard on her career this past decade, making smart choices that have allowed her to showcase a very broad range. She handles low-key drama just as easily as playing a kick-ass vampire murder machine, and always gets herself noticed, no matter how minute her part. Ami Tomite puts in a solid performance as Manami, but isn't quite as memorable, Yumi Adachi on the other hand is sure to stick in your brain, though her role doesn't allow for much elbow room.
When you're condensing a 10-episode series into a 2.5-hour film, you're bound to lose some plot and character development. Then again, Tokyo Vampire Hotel is a story about two vampires clans battling each other in a weird and colorful hotel. It's hardly an exercise in deep and thoughtful storytelling, so Sono's decision to keep all the juicy bits in and cut out the cruft is one I happily applaud. If you prefer more plot and longer runtimes, you're obviously better off watching the series. Personally, I'm content that everything got wrapped up within 150 minutes, even if the cuts introduced some minor pacing issues.
Tokyo Vampire Hotel is 100% vintage, uncut, madcap Sono. An insanely bloody, stylish and unique vampire flick that mixes classic folklore with original lore and delivers one of his most impressive rollercoaster rides yet. Things like consistency, coherence, pacing and visual polish all take a small hit because of the project's origins as a limited series, but that's easily forgotten when the execution is this much fun. Whether you'll prefer the film cut or the original series doesn't even matter that much, if you haven't gotten around to Tokyo Vampire Hotel yet, and you love yourself a bit of Sono madness, make this a priority.