Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl

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Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Rating (out of 5): ****

No cinematic moment of 2008 was as remotely satisfying to me as watching the opening sequence of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl on the big screen at IFC Center two summers ago, where it played as the centerpiece of the New York Asian Film Festival. As cheesy-sleazy keyboard riffs conjured mid-1960s garage rock on the soundtrack, the formidably fiendish Vampire Girl (Yukie Kawamura) laid waste to her schoolgirl nemeses, using her supernatural skills to strip the very flesh from their pretty little noggins, exposing manic, chattering deathheads. The feverish quality of the low-budget (but zesty) CGI and the take-no-prisoners action practically has this grisly-cute confection peaking in its first two minutes, but once they get your attention, directors Yoshihiro Nishimura (Toyko Gore Police) and Naoyuki Tomomatsu never relinquish it.

The film works completely on the level of a Saturday morning live-action cartoon -- I swear it's as influenced by The Monkees as it is by vintage horror -- broadly spoofing the subgenre of Japanese movies set in high schools as it spirals towards full-tilt mayhem. You could consider it a gender-reversed answer to Twilight, even. The cute boy Jyugon (Takumi Saitô) gets conscripted into boyfriend status by the bossy mean girl Keiko (Eri Otoguro), but the craftier, and shyly mysterious transfer student Monami (a.k.a. Vampire Girl) has a secret weapon. On Valentine's Day, she feeds the pretty, passive lad a chocolate filled not with cream but her own blood -- prompting a hallucinatory rush and leaving him spellbound by Monami and, indeed, a tad vampiric himself. When the inevitable hell breaks loose, and Monami squares off against Keiko and her posse, the mere mortal has no chance, and, basically, gets mangled and dismembered. Lucky for Keiko, her father, the school's hapless junior administrator, is also a mad scientist who's been constructing his own Frankenstein monster out of spare body parts. He has Keiko fixed up in a jiff, and voila! Frankenstein Girl is born.

The plot itself is really a delivery system for the manic splatter, creature-making, special effects and battles royale that erupt spontaneously and with escalating intensity as a tender romance between introverted outsiders devolves into a mutant blood orgy in which scarcely a limb, follicle, or orifice goes unweaponized.

Yet, it's the comic elements that make VGVSFG strangely endearing. As he did in Tokyo Gore Police, Nishimura inserts outrageous skits to break up the action. There's a nightmarishly excessive scene from a wrist cutter's championship in the high school gym (inspired in part by one of the movie's cowriters who is, herself, a cutter), and the welcome, if so-very-politically-incorrect, introduction of the Ganguro Girls: young Japanese women who emulate and exaggerate African-American fashions and hip-hop slang. The outrageous blackface spoofery may be so ridiculous (I won't give out any spoilers) that no one would actually take offense - especially coming from a director who parades around at festival screenings in a fundoshi and lets audience members hurl acupuncture darts at his bare ass.

But, as often happens in the movie, your jaw will drop to the floor as your stomach muscles tighten in laughter, or shock, or both.

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