The Japanese video market of the 1990s produced some pretty amazing films, among them this highly audacious take on vampires, an exhausted subject this film treats with considerable freshness and ingenuity.
MY SOUL IS SLASHED (KAMITSUKITAI) appeared in 1991. Directed by the talented and prolific Shusake Kaneko (of SUMMER VACATION 1999, GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE and DEATH NOTE), it starred the iconic Ken Ogata (of Shohei Imamura’s VENGEANCE IS MINE, Paul Schrader’s MISHIMA and Peter Greenaway’s THE PILLOW BOOK) and newcomer Hikari Ishida, who won several Japanese awards for her performance. The film was fairly successful on the Japanese video circuit but never got much play outside Japan (aside from subtitled VHS copies from the once-mighty greymarket outfit Video Search of Miami), which is a shame.
Ishikawa, the head of a large pharmaceutical company, is killed in an act of corporate espionage. As he’s dying he’s given a blood transfusion in a hospital. What nobody knows is that the blood he’s injected with is that of Dracula, stored in the hospital by a mysterious young woman. The latter accosts Ishikawa’s virginal daughter Saeko at her father’s funeral, advising Saeko to drip a few drops of her own blood onto her father’s cremated ashes. This she does, and a year later, during a full moon, a stark naked Ishikawa appears before a shocked Saeko.
More freak-outs are in store as the undead Ishikawa turns up at his office, feeling out of sorts and desiring tomato juice. His discombobulation is explained by the young woman who set everything in motion and recognizes Ishikawa for what he is: a vampire who can’t go out during the day, doesn’t cast a reflection and is repelled by the sight of a crucifix. She also claims that after ten days she can make Ishikawa a flesh-and-blood human again via a blood transfusion (ignoring pointed warnings that if she does so “something bad will happen”).
In the meantime Ishikawa uses his vampiric powers to assume the form of a rat and spy on his wife being courted by a new guy. He also investigates the dastardly machinations that led to his death. The guys who killed him, however, aren’t exactly laying idle, and are determined to do Ichikawa in a second time—and as he’s about to become a human, the killers might just succeed!
Truth be told, this film has little to recommend directorially. Shusake Kaneko’s helming is workmanlike at best, and marred by a distractingly histrionic music score. Yet that latter element aside, Kaneko’s no-frills approach actually works to the film’s advantage. An important factor of the superbly imaginative script is the mundanity of its suburban atmosphere, with pivotal sequences taking place in the protagonist’s unassumingly decorated living room, a kids’ playground and the Volkswagen Bug the heroine drives. In this film there are no old dark castles or mist-shrouded forests to be seen, and, even more unexpectedly, there is NO onscreen blood-sucking.
Ken Ogata’s moving performance as Ishikawa is a standout element, but the real star of the film is the screenplay by Kaneko and Chigusa Shiota. Appreciably hip, unceasingly inventive and quintessentially Japanese from start to finish, it succeeds in doing something I’d long thought was impossible: injecting the done-to-death vampire genre with new life—or perhaps more accurately, blood.
MY SOUL IS SLASHED (KAMITSUKITAI)
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Producer: Shohei Kota, Mitsuo Sato, Nobuaki Murooka
Screenplay: Shusuke Kaneko, Chigusa Shiota
Cinematography: Koichi Kawakami
Editing: Isao Tomita
Cast: Ken Ogata, Hikari Ishida, Harumi Harada, Sumiyo Hasegawa, Shigesato Itoi, Hirotaro Honda, Miyuki Kato, Hideyo Amamoto