Vampire Hunter D (1985 film)

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Vampire Hunter D
Vampire Hunter (1985 film) DVD cover.jpg
Directed by Toyoo Ashida
Produced by Hiroshi Kato
Mitsuhisa Koeda
Yukio Nagasaki
Written by Yasushi Hirano
Based on Vampire Hunter D Volume 1 
by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Starring Kaneto Shiozawa
Michie Tomizawa
Seizō Katō
Keiko Toda
Yūsaku Yara
Ichirō Nagai
Music by Tetsuya Komuro
Production
  company
Ashi Productions
Distributed by Toho (Japan)
Streamline Pictures (U.S.) (1993-99)
Urban Vision Entertainment (U.S.) (2000-present)
Madman Entertainment (Australia)
Manga Video (UK)
Release date(s)
  • December 21, 1985 (1985-12-21)
Running time 80 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Vampire Hunter D (吸血鬼(バンパイア)ハンターD Banpaia Hantā Dī) is a 1985 Japanese horror/science fiction OVA film produced by Ashi Productions, in association with Epic/Sony Records, CBS Sony Group Inc. and Movic. The screenplay is based on the first in the long-running series of light novels written by Hideyuki Kikuchi. Billed by the Japanese producers as a "dark future science-fiction romance", the film, like the novel before it, is set in the year 12,090 AD, in a post-nuclear holocaust world where a young woman hires a mysterious half-vampire, half-human vampire hunter to protect her from a powerful vampire lord.

The film was later dubbed into English by Streamline Pictures and was released on home video on March 26, 1993 by Orion Home Video. Well-received critically, the film currently holds an 83% critical consensus rating on Rotten Tomatoes and remains a cult classic in the English-speaking world. A second film based on the novels, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri and released in 2000.

Yoshitaka Amano, who illustrates the novels, was the character designer for the OVA. Acclaimed pop artist Tetsuya Komuro was responsible for the film's soundtrack, and also performed the film's ending theme, 'Your Song', with the fellow members of his band TM Network.

Plot[edit]

While walking her guard rounds in the country, 17-year-old Doris Lang, the daughter of a deceased werewolf hunter, is attacked by Count Magnus Lee, a 10,000-year-old, long-lost vampire lord (also known as a Noble), who intends to make her his new vampire bride.

Doris later encounters a mysterious dampiel and vampire hunter, known only as D, and hires him to protect her from Count Lee. While in town with Dan, her younger brother, and D, Doris is confronted by Greco Roman, the mayor’s son, about the Count’s attack and D, and promises to help her if he has Doris for himself. When Doris refuses, Greco reveals what happened to the entire town, including Dan. D requests that the authorities, including Greco’s father, the town sheriff and Dr. Feringo (Fehring in the English dub), should hold off Doris’ incarceration at the local asylum until he kills Count Lee. He also tells a distraught Dan to encourage his sister through these difficult times.

That night, D is attacked by Rei Ginsei, Count Lee’s servant and a mutant with the ability to warp the space around his body, and Lamika, Count Lee’s daughter, who is highly prejudiced against humans and dampiels. They intend to kill Doris because Lamika feels that humans are not worthy of joining the Noble House of Lee. D holds off the attack and orders the pair to return to the Count’s castle. The next day, he travels the castle and attempts to confront the Count. Aided by the symbiote in his Left Hand, D holds his own against the Count’s monstrous minions, including Rei and his companions Gimlet, Gorem and Chullah. While in the castle’s catacombs, he is ensnared and captured by the Three Sisters, also known as the Snake Women of Midwich. Doris is then kidnapped by Rei and brought to the Count. Using his vampiric powers, D kills the Snake Women, rescues Doris before she can be killed by Lamika, and escapes the castle.

In town, Greco overhears a meeting between Rei and a messenger from Count Lee, who gives the former a candle with Time-Bewitching Incense, a substance powerful enough to weaken vampires and dampiels. Dan is taken hostage by Rei, and D comes to his rescue, cutting off Rei’s hand in the process and discovering that the candle is a fake. Meanwhile, Dr. Feringo, himself a vampire in league with Count Lee, leads Doris into a trap but is killed by Lamika when he begins requesting to share Doris with the Count. Greco then appears, using the real Time-Bewitching Incense to severely weaken Lamika, but is overpowered by Dan and D. Afterwards, Doris, who has by now fallen for D, tries to convince him to live with her and embraces him. D, unwilling to bite her, forces her away from him.

The next morning, Greco is confronted and killed by Rei, who takes the real candle and uses it to weaken D, allowing him to kill the vampire hunter with a wooden stake. Doris and Dan are then captured and taken back to the castle. Lamika tries to persuade her father not to introduce a human into the family, but Lee reveals that there is no harm in doing so, as Lamika’s own mother was a human - making her a dampiel instead of a full-blooded vampire as she once believed. Rei also requests that the Count give him eternal life as a member of the Nobility, but he is coldly rebuffed.

As a mutant attempts to devour D’s body, his Left Hand revives him just in time for him to kill the monster. D then makes his way to Lee’s castle. As the processional for the Count and Doris’ wedding takes place, Dan, having escaped his cell, attempts to attack Lee, but falls into a chasm before being saved by Rei. In retaliation for not fulfilling his request, Rei attempts to weaken the Count with the Time-Bewitching Incense. However, Lee, who is too powerful to be weakened by the Incense, kills him. Before Doris can be bitten by the Count, D appears and engages in a climactic battle with Lee, and succeeds in stabbing the Noble with his sword. A weakened Lee attempts to influence Doris into killing D, but she is broken out of the trance by Dan, who arrives with Lamika. D then uses his powers to enact the destruction of the castle, and it is implied that, because of these powers and their resemblance to one another, he is the son of Count Dracula, the legendary Ancestral God of Vampires. He then tries to persuade Lamika into living as a human, but she chooses to die as a member of the Nobility with her father.

D, Doris and Dan escape the collapsing castle. The dampiel then sets off under a now clear blue sky. The Langs bid D goodbye as he looks back briefly to them and smiles.

Cast[edit]

Character Japanese Voice Actor English Voice Actor
D Kaneto Shiozawa Michael McConnohie
Doris Lang Michie Tomizawa Barbara Goodson
Count Magnus Lee Seizō Katō Jeff Winkless
Dan Lang Keiko Toda Lara Cody
Greco Roman Yūsaku Yara Steve Bulen
Countess Lamika Lee Satoko Kitō Edie Mirman
Rei Ginsei Kazuyuki Sogabe Kerrigan Mahan
D's Left Hand Ichirō Nagai Michael McConnohie
Dr. Feringo/Dr. Fehring Motomu Kiyokawa Steve Kramer
Mayor Roman Yasuo Muramatsu Tom Wyner
The Three Sisters/
Snake Women of Midwich
Kazuko Yanaga
Yoshiko Sakakibara
Joyce Kurtz

Differences between the novel and movie[edit]

There are many differences, most are of considerable significance.

In the movie, Doris's physical prowess is implied and briefly shown when she fends off Greco, whereas in the novel these traits are given a greater emphasis. It could also be argued that D is more reserved in regards to Doris in the film, never going beyond a mere embrace (at least on camera) and certainly never kissing Doris, as he does in the novel. In the film it is nonetheless made clear that D holds great affection for Doris beneath his cool and stoic exterior. In both formats it takes force of will to resist the temptation to bite Doris, possibly linking D's vampirism to his sexuality.

Unlike the novel, the D of the film makes few errors in judgment or battle, and is more loath to resort to his vampiric side, resisting it almost to the point of death. D of the novel is more willing to use his vampiric abilities to get out of trouble, though he is also reluctant, albeit to a lesser extent.

In the book, Dr. Fering's character and relationship with the Langs is further developed, and he spends more time helping them. He also explains to Doris (and in doing so the readers) that in the seven thousand years in which vampires ruled over man, human DNA was altered so that when a human comprehends the effect of a deterrent (such as garlic or crucifixes), they forget about it. Consequently crosses do not appear as jewelry or on buildings in the books, as they do in the movie.

In the book, the only ones besides Dan and D to ever know that Doris was bitten were Dr. Fering, the mayor, Sheriff Dalton, Greco, and Greco's thugs. Dalton threatens Greco and his friends that if anyone spreads word about Doris' being bitten, "I'll throw you in the electric pokey." We also learn that the sheriff is trusted by Doris, and was thrown into his prison prior to Doris being placed in the asylum.

Rei Ginsei's character was almost entirely altered, including his ethnicity. In the book, he is Japanese and he tries to rape Doris and offers D both power and friendship, but is coldly rebuffed. In the Japanese language version of the movie, his character was evil but honorable, while in the American dub, the dialogue was rewritten so that he was immature, unambiguously evil & overly bloodthirsty. His mutant power of warping space within his body, however, remains the same in all versions. His death was altered for the movie, coming from Magnus, rather than D.

Rei's three companions were transformed to monstrosities: Gimlet was changed from a mutant with superhuman speed to a glider who laughed; Golem from a large man to a true giant; and the spider-controlling Chullah (not named in the movie) from a hunchbacked human to a spindly-limbed green humanoid. In the book D kills them and cuts off Rei's hand in the same encounter, following Dan's kidnapping. In the movie D kills Chullah and Golem while leaving the castle, and shortly thereafter Rei accidentally kills Gimlet with his shrike-blade while chasing D.

Rei does not rescue Dan in the book, and apparently intends to kill the boy when he kidnaps him.

The Time-Bewitching Incense becomes a candle capable of paralysing anyone with vampire blood. In the book it was originally a substance that was hard for vampires to manufacture, and turned day into night and vice versa. Rei's instructions were, because D does have some ability to withstand sunlight, to light it near D and put it out quickly to confuse his body, thus weakening him. The Incense was given to Rei by Lee directly rather than by a servant.

In the movie, Rei kills Greco outdoors, whereas in the novel Greco is killed by a more active Larmica at the asylum.

Ramika's (Larmica in the novel) lineage is altered: In the book she is a vampire, but in the movie she is revealed to be a half-vampire like D. In the book she has blonde hair and Doris has black hair; the colors were reversed for the movie. Their outfits also were changed for the movie: in the book, Doris normally wears jeans and a shirt instead of a short tunic, and Larmica wears dresses of various colors (white, blue, and black are mentioned); one dress is said to be of medieval styling.

The lamia-like Three Sisters, or Snake Women of Midwich, appear more prominently in the book, with significantly different results. The Midwich Medusas, an ancient trio of demons predating vampires, are famous for their attack on Frontier village of Midwich and have the powers of a succubus. In trying to subdue D, they are instead ensnared by his own formidable powers of seduction, and turned into lovestruck (though short-lived) allies.

In the book, D's pendant neutralizes the technological defenses of the Nobility, whereas in the movie, it repels many of the demons living within Lee's castle.

Dracula's nature, and why the vampires respect him so much, are also explained more within the novel. D even quotes his father as warning of the Nobles' downfall. Dracula apparently did not believe in exploiting humans like mindless cattle, something Magnus Lee has forgotten, and for which D takes him to task.

In the film Count Lee is killed when D summons his vampiric side, overpowering Lee and nailing him through the heart to a wall, which crushes Lee to death upon the castle's destruction (which was caused by Lee's defeat); in the book however, this is very different: Lamica sets the castle controls to destroy the castle within a certain amount of time, D shows up in time to stop Doris' transformation into a vampire, and he and the count face off. The count has the power to use his cape as a bladed weapon, and as an arm to squeeze and lift things, nor can it be pierced; thus their battle is fairly even. Before D can craft a strategy (his specialty) to defeat Lee, Doris, who is now being controlled by the count, distracts D; Lee seizes the opportunity and grabs D with his cape, taking his sword. Just as Lee is about to behead D, a warning bell alerting Lee of the castle's future destruction goes off. This bell distracts Lee, causing his cape to return to normal and release D. The Count attempts to stab D in the heart, but D catches the blade and breaks the tip off. He then jumps back and throws the tip at Lee. It pierces the count's heart, killing him.

OVA Films Restoration[edit]

In December 2003, German anime distributor OVA Films released a restored version of Vampire Hunter D on DVD (PAL, Region Code 2, priced 29,95 €). Unlike the overwhelming majority of PAL anime releases, which are NTSC-PAL conversions of whatever master the Japanese licensor offers, OVA Films requested the film negative to do their own transfer from scratch in the PAL format. As the Japanese, French, US and UK DVDs have all been taken from composite transfers originally used for LD and VHS replication, Vampire Hunter D was sorely in need of a new master for the digital age. The OVA Films DVD included a brand new transfer from what OVA Films claimed to be the original negative. It should be noted that while the Japanese DVD does not have reel change-over marks, the German and American film masters do, so it's unlikely that this transfer was taken from the camera negative, and was more likely taken from a slightly lower quality inter-negative source a few generations away from the actual negative. The film is presented in 25 frames per second as opposed to its original 24 frames per second runtime, so the video and audio are both pitched up by 4% as is expected in PAL transfers. Despite running a few minutes shorter than all prior versions due to the PAL speedup, this release is completely unedited.

The OVA Films DVD released the feature in anamorphic 1.78:1 PAL widescreen, with German 5.1, Japanese 5.1, and Japanese 1.0 mono audio along with optional German subtitles. OVA Films incorrectly notes the Japanese 1.0 release is the "original" mix, when Vampire Hunter D was actually recorded in stereo. The widescreen presentation was accomplished by taking the 35mm film master and cropping off the top and bottom of the image. This was, according to OVA Films, approved of by director Toyoo Ashida who stated that it would have been cropped when shown in theaters anyhow (despite the fact that Vampire Hunter D was never played in theaters outside of North America). The production was noted as an OAV - Original Anime Video - in the making-of on the Sony LD, so it's safe to assume that the original intended aspect ratio was 4:3, not 16:9. A marginal level of detail on the sides of the frame have been restored from the OVA Films telecine, at the cost of roughly 20% of the top and bottom as seen on every prior video release.

Cropping aside, the transfer is better than any other video release, with no composite artifacts (such as analog video noise or dot crawl), strong black levels that show previously hidden detail, natural film grain, and bright and vibrant colors, though perhaps at times the transfer is a bit too bright. Reds appear slightly pink compared to prior transfers, and shades of dark gray stand out against black, differentiating the animation cels from the backgrounds clearly. One can argue that showing the flaws in the original animation is, however, more representative of the original master. Contrast appears to be slightly overblown, though this is likely fault of the film stock given to OVA Films rather than any intentional boosting done in post production.

Special features include original scored image galleries (including original art by character designer Amano Yoshitaka), the original Japanese trailer for Vampire Hunter D, and the making-of feature originally included on the Sony LD, as well as previews for other OVA Films properties. All the features are NTSC-PAL conversions and feature removable German subtitles.

Hideyuki Kikuchi on the origin of his concept of Vampire Hunter D[edit]

Hideyuki Kikuchi wrote a note about where the idea of Vampire Hunter D came from, that was included with the original Vampire Hunter D Laserdisc:

"D" originated from the fact that I wanted to write a horror story. I based my story on ancient traveler folk tales and on Western horror movies.

"D" is also a product of my eccentricity. It started as an idea about letting a vampire be a hero instead of a villain. My first image of "D" was the gunfighter video of Phil Collins. In this video, Phil was wearing American Western gunfighter clothing with Japanese Samurai gear; the background had a red sun burning in the sky. For some reason, my image shifted to a character like that wearing a half-moon sword and a cloak. Also, his face is changed from my image of a handsome man to a rough, gunfighter look. When I saw Amano's paintings of the character, it was beyond my expectations. (Yoshitaka Amano worked on the character and production design for this movie as well as for "Ninja Team Gatchaman" and many other animations.)

D's personality is shifting between two different modes. He is not a man or a vampire, yet his personality constantly shifts between man and vampire.

I hope that everyone enjoys this movie.

-Hideyuki Kikuchi

External links[edit]