Now Streaming - Tokyo Vampire Hotel (2018) - Reviewed

Madman auteur Sion Sono's filmography is filled with venomous treasures.  He presents complex morality plays under the guise of hyper-kinetic violence, baroque imagery, and over the top melodrama.  His films are jagged dreams, threading together multiple narratives and uncomfortable subject matter to provoke and endear.  His movies are the epitome of art house insanity, constantly redefining the boundaries of artistic presentation and what is possible within the medium.  His latest effort is a 9-part miniseries that delves into the realm of the supernatural.  Featuring gorgeous visuals, absolutely appalling levels of violence, and rogue philosophical conflicts, Tokyo Vampire Hotel is one of the most unique viewing experiences of the year.

In 2021 Tokyo, two rival vampire clans clash in a clandestine hotel with dozens of human victims caught in the crossfire.  In the midst of the carnage, three special vampires hold the keys to the future of the vampire race, putting their agendas into play while an apocalyptic event changes everything.  There's nothing quite like a Sono film.  His script begins with an operatic mass murder and then jettisons into an atmosphere of sex, blood, and a Battle Royale level of mayhem.  At the heart of the story is a unique take on the mythology, borrowing heavily from genre establishments and then subverting these truths with both nuance and camp.  The initial episodes deal with creating the world and moving the characters to the eponymous hotel.  Backstories are interwoven throughout, providing desperately needed exposition while simultaneously further complicating an almost incomprehensible plot.  This is the glory of Sono's unparalleled style.  He flitters between B movie trash and life changing suppositions in an instant.  Even the central act, which is essentially a nonstop fight sequence, manages to posit questions on the nature of love and violence and their relationship with destiny in a world undone by centuries of hubris.


Ami Tomite stars as Manami and her intriguing performance is a dangerous miracle to behold.  As various factions vie for her allegiance, her slow surrender to her nature is both wickedly funny and emotionally raw.  However, Kaho's brilliant turn as vampire warrior K is the centerpiece.  While the whole of Hotel is about Manami's blood-soaked journey into the unknown, K's arc is the most satisfying.  Her delivery is pitch perfect, communicating that Kaho knows exactly what kind of world she is in.  Her physicality, and unchecked rage become a presence unto themselves, putting all of the colorful personalities of the hotel into orbit around her murderous eye of the storm.

Yoshio Yamada's set decoration is sublime.  Colors pop in virtually every scene, conjuring memories of Wes Anderson's color drenched visuals, while Kazuhiro Sawaitashi's costume design blends Elizabethan grandeur with modern Japanese style to elicit a feeling of division.  Tradition and rebellion are the focus, garnering many critics to draw comparison to Passolini's Salo.  The idea of humans held captive solely for the purpose of entertainment runs throughout the bulk of the episodes before transitioning (as is the case with most of Sono's work) into a completely different animal during the final episode.  What begins are a horror-action hybrid mutates into a somber allegory on freedom and perception, mimicking similar notes of Sono’s magnum opus Love Exposure's masterful denouement.


Sono spliced the episodes together for a short theatrical cut that played on the festival circuit to mostly negative reviews.   The final product, however, is an unforgettable experience that is flawed in all the right ways.  Madness is the medium and flesh is the canvas during the bulk of Tokyo Vampire Hotel and genre fans will find much to adore as they allow Sono to draw them into an insular world of immortal hatred and vague prophecy.  The conclusion pulls the viewer from the depths of limbo into the world beyond, reminding one of the power of perception and the inherent dangers of the worlds we design around ourselves, hoping to keep the darkness at bay.  Sono is here to remind everyone, that the darkness is already within us.

Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

--Kyle Jonathan