Manga has been responsible for some pretty amazing animated films, some of these have have managed to receive mainstream recognition (Akira, Fist of the North Star) and many have served to influence live action movies over the years.
More recently Manga too have been creating live action movies themselves and to a mixed reception.
Part of the problem is that when animated, Manga movies seem to have unlimited potential – amazing effects, unthinkable beings and unbelievable fight sequences. With these ‘cartoons’ the artist’s imagination is the only boundary.
Now, thankfully with the developments in CGI, it seems that at last we are able to see this sort of unrestricted, imaginative creativity expressed in live action.
That brings us nicely to Higanjima – Escape from Vampire Island, a conventional movie with real actors but that unmistakable Manga-ness.
It’s your usual set-up. A young handsome boy named Akira lives in a big Japanese city, struggling to live up to his parents expectations whilst keeping his family together. He spends a majority of his time hanging out with an odd bunch of friends and getting into scrapes with local bullies.
Things take a turn however when a mysterious woman takes Akira aside and says that she needs his help. She explains that she knows his older brother who mysteriously vanished without trace two years previously.
Akira and his friends soon discover that this woman is working for vampires, apparently involuntarily, to get mortals from the main land and ship them to a mysterious island called Higanjima. There these unsuspecting humans are used to feed the island’s vampire population.
Akira and his ill-prepared buddies vow to help the woman and find Akira’s brother and thus embark on an adventure involving lots of long pointy teeth and flashing blades.
Higanjima is a slow starter and to begin with it’s difficult to figure out what sort of movie it’s going to be. With the initial comedy elements, you could be fooled into thinking that it’s going to be a Lost Boys/Goonies style movie with a Japanese Manga twist. This isn’t really the case though as the mood gradually sobers and the film progresses.
Once on the island, the action seems to take an age to build. The young mortals are captured, escape, and are captured again and there is little fighting to speak of, which is a little frustrating.
There are some confusing elements too, such as a character called Pon who is part of the group of youths but seems to be randomly hated by all of them for no particular reason.
Other members in the group seem to have little purpose at all, such has the ‘fat kid’ character who doesn’t even really bring any comedy value to the film.
Worryingly the movie remains mildly entertaining way beyond the half way point, with only flashes of action and excitement to keep the viewer’s interest.
But when all seems lost, Higanjima recovers.
As soon as Akira and co meet with a band of rebel survivors, you can almost smell the impending action. And it’s worth the wait, with the effects and choreography really demonstrating that the imagination of the illustrated Manga films has finally been liberated by CGI.
It’s not ground-breakingly good, but conidering that this isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster, visually, this film really does impress. Blood, monsters, explosions all in good measure.
The end result, a vampire movie that is interesting and entertaining. At times it’s dangerously close to boring, but with the likelyhood of a sequel on the horizon, there is plenty of opportunity for Manga to make good this decent beginning.