Despite its passing resemblance to recent Japanese gore fests like Machine Girl and Robogeisha, Higanjima is a decidedly more mainstream attempt at capturing the goofy magic of those Sushi Typhoon movies. The movie opens brilliantly enough as Atsushi Miyamoto(DaiWatanabe) dispatches some vampires with extreme prejudice. By extreme prejudice, I mean a giant wooden pillar that Atsushi uses to squishy the vampire heads. The scene is stylish, brutal, and sets a nice tone for the rest of the movie.
Cut to Akira Miyamoto(Hideo Ishiguro) escaping the wrath of a bunch of schoolyard goons. These goons, of course, fit the mold of all Japanese hoodlums by having the goofiest hair imaginable. We're talking spiky mullets, 'fro hair with fierce eyeliner, and some frosted tips for good measure. While trying to escape, he’s rescued by the mysterious Rei(Asami Mizukawa) who tells Akira that she knows where his long-lost brother Atsushi is. Akira enlists the help of his stereotypical ragtag group of friends and I’m fully on board at this point. There’s a cute tomboy, the tough guy, the brainy nerd, the fat jolly guy, and a stereotype I was fully unaware of, the effeminate weirdowith a bowl cut. The gang reaches the island and come face to face with an island infested by a vampire horde. Their leader is like a mixture between the Goblin King and Edward Cullen on steroids; he’s paler, more effeminate, goofier hair, and has an even more abusive relationship with his honey.
Despite a fun concept, Higanjima still represents some of the best and worst aspects of mainstream Japanese/Korean cinema. The movie just oozes style and it’s not shy about turning on the bloodwork. The action is serviceable, but it’s typical of Japanese cinema in that it’s far more stilted than it’s Hong Kong brethren. To complicate the identity, the movie is directed by Tae-Gyun Kim, who is best known for the incomprehensible action extravaganza, Volcano High. Kim definitely brings a lot of much needed style and fun to the movie, but nothing can escape the black hole of schmaltzy Japanese melodrama. The melodrama is probably the biggest enemy of the movie as it more often than not kills the pacing. The near-2 hour run time also feels completely unnecessary. This could’ve been avoided if it weren’t for an extended training sequence with the resistance movement, but the less said about that, the better.
Needles to say, there's a mass assault on the mountain base where things take a turn for the bizarrely awesome. The audience gets treated to one of the strangest cg cinematic creations: the cg monster, Onya. Even though the movie sports a $60 million budget, it obviously did not go to this atrocity. It bears the odd distinction of being a terrible cg creation, but with the herky jerky movement of stop-motion animation. Despite the horrible animation, I couldn’t help but embrace this strange creation. It’s best described as a gigantor version of the Brood aliens from X-Men, but without the carapace.
Like most mainstream Japanese genre affair, it isn’t a complete failure or a complete success. It has a good deal of creativity and energy that keeps the audience engaged, but it can’t seem to get out of its own way. The melodrama is necessary to the story, but doesn’t ring true due to the milquetoast main characters. I would say tread carefully when thinking about watching this flick, but there’s enough to enjoy that it can be a serviceable distraction.
Make or Break: The opening scene really sets the right tone of style and gore. It gives you a taste of what to expect, even though the movie doesn’t help realize those expectations.
MVT: I’d have to say that the style is the most valuable asset to the movie. There’s a great mix of horror stereotypes with Tokugawa-era aesthetics.