Back around the late 90’s I was doing a lot of video trading and came into possession of a bunch of horror movies from Japan. These were often hard to get a hold of because Japan wasn’t keen on subtitling their movies and foreign video formats required conversion, something that distributors and bootleggers weren’t really up for. So while the rest of us were binging on internationally released horror from Italy, Germany and France, Japan was really late to the game and you had to shell out a premium to companies like Video Search of Miami in order to get really crappy bootlegs of Japanese horror that were more or less fansubbed. It was complicated and often the results were unpleasant since English language information about Japanese horror was hard to come by. You had little to go on and what sounded great on paper often turned out to be Keiko Kamen. You lost more than you won.
These blind rolls of the dice often turned up some really subversive stuff, though, and while a lot of the horror I was discovering at the time was just rancid I sometimes would stumble on to something like Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Rubber’s Lover and 964 Pinocchio. Those pictures were making gory observations about Japan’s culture of commodity and technology, really outrageous statements from an artist’s perspective. I’m not entirely sure what kind of statements Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyuki Tomomatsu are trying to make with Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, but this shit is easily as subversive as that 90’s cyberpunk stuff that Shinya Tsukamoto was shooting.
It’s valentine’s day and the asshole teacher at Tokyo High School is confiscating all the girls’ chocolate, which when given to a boy is a confession of their feelings for him. Monami, the new transfer student who seems to blend in without being noticed, manages to hold on to hers and gives it to Mizushima, her crush, who also happens to be the object of affection for Keiko, the pushy gothic lolita and daughter of the mousy school principal. When Mizushima bites into Monami’s chocolate, he finds that it contains some of her blood, that she’s a vampire and that he is now on the path to become one as well. Keiko isn’t cool with this and in a series of violent mishaps, her father, secretly a mad scientist in Kabuki makeup, grafts parts of other students on to her dead body and creates a powerful monster that will fight the vampire Monami.
For a movie literally drenched in fake blood, I would describe Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl as zany. The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police came before from this director team-up and I consider both of them to be a little on the mean side. A lot of Japanese horror tends to go that way. Much of what I’d found in my early explorations of Japan’s horror culture was, essentially, hentai brought to the live action screen. When Ringu caught on and became an international hit, though, the tone in Japan’s horror circles changed and became much more acceptable on a public level. Watching Japanese horror evolve over the last ten years has been an interesting ride and it would seem like with the directors of this flick and a guy like Noboru Iguchi, we’re seeing Japan’s horror finally makes it way to the silly excesses of Sam Raimi. Vampire Girl is bloody to the extreme but keeps a light tone throughout, deliberately going to really stupid places, reflecting a lot of popular characteristics of manga.
I’m at a loss to give the plot any sort of critical attention, though. There’s really not much plot to speak of and that which there is lurches drunkenly from scene to scene, finding new ways to cut off someone’s arm or hose the cast down with fake blood. How can I take myself seriously illustrating the pros and cons of the Tokyo High School championship wrist-cutting team or the club of ganguro girls who’ve tanned themselves to the extreme that they now wear blackface, afros and have giant lips that parody racist stereotypes of black people. I mean, it’s funny in a ‘what the fuck’ sort of way and their chant in praise of Obama pushes it way over the edge of bad taste but throughout the picture I got the feeling that that was exactly the point.
If you show up to Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl expecting anything but a bloodbath, you may be let down. The whole movie plays out like Dead Alive had it been directed by John Waters. It’s loaded with goofy jokes and an extended period of the running time is dedicated to people revelling in slow motion under a geyser of blood. You’ll also believe that a person can fly helicopter style by spinning a pair of severed legs over their head. A large part of what fascinates me about Japan is their counter-culture. The nation commonly follows the notion that everyone must fit in and fill an expected role but the people who strike out on their own and follow their own path tend to go out of their way to land way out on the extremes of the fringe just so there’s no mistaking how they feel about anything and thank god for that. Without this wildly rebellious spirit in the Tokyo underground, we wouldn’t be treated to stuff like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl.