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Moon Child

A half-chaotic, half-entertaining mixture of dystopian romance, gunplay and vampirism, "Moon Child" is a futuristic fantasy-on-a-budget that, like most of Japanese helmer Takahisa Zeze's pics, would benefit from a further 30 minutes left on the cutting-room floor. Largely tailored to young East Asian auds, with whom the names of epicene rocksters Hyde and Gackt will resonate, this could have a small career on Western ancillary in a more focused version.

With:
With: Hyde, Gackt, Wang Lee-hom, Taro Yamamoto, Susumu Terajima, Zeny Kwok, Anne Suzuki, Ryo Ishibashi, Etsushi Toyokawa, Li Li-chun.

A half-chaotic, half-entertaining mixture of dystopian romance, gunplay and vampirism, “Moon Child” is a futuristic fantasy-on-a-budget that, like most of Japanese helmer Takahisa Zeze’s pics, would benefit from a further 30 minutes left on the cutting-room floor. Largely tailored to young East Asian auds, with whom the names of epicene rocksters Hyde and Gackt will resonate, this could have a small career on Western ancillary in a more focused version.

Set across 45 years, film opens with a brief prologue in Tokyo on the eve of the new millennium and then flashes forward to 2014, to a Chinese-speaking Asian zone called Mallepa. Japan’s economy has collapsed and Mallepa is full of impoverished Nipponese migrants and criminals, among whom is Kei (Hyde, from group L’Arc en Ciel), who doesn’t look a day older than at the start.

Kei, who can magically dodge bullets fired at point-blank range, pals up with 8-year-old street orphan Sho, who picks pockets with his brother Shinji and friend Toshi. Kei saves Sho and Toshi during a gunfight.

Eleven years later, Sho is a pretty-boy punk gangster (David Bowie-like Gackt, who also co-scripted), who’s a whiz with a gun, while Toshi (Taro Yamamoto, from “Go”), delivers pizza. Kei, Sho and Taro befriend Chinese gunman Song (Taiwanese singer Wang Lee-hom) when they all try to take out a Chinese mafioso, Luka (Etsushi Toyokawa).

Luka once raped Song’s artist sister, Yi-che (Hong Kong thesp Zeny Kwok, from “Glass Tears”), who’s been mute ever since, and the five youngsters form a friendship as they unite to take out Luka. Meanwhile, Sho develops a crush on Yi-che, but she’s enamoured of Kei, who turns out to be a vampire.

That’s only the halfway point of a movie so confusingly constructed that most of the viewer’s downtime is been spent working out who is who. Second half is clearer, as the cast thins out, but the pic still pays little attention to standard narrative, with large time-jumps and quiet, talky sections peppered with gun battles.

Somewhere in the mess is an almost Leone-ish tale of friendship set amid a life-and-death urban landscape, but Zeze seems unable to maintain the focus for long. Showy set pieces — well-staged, without heavy use of f/x — are clearly tailored to teenage fans of Hyde and Gackt, the latter armed to the teeth and in spectacular white duds, the former in more melancholy mode as the sad, ageless vampire.

Goro Yasukawa’s yearning, Morricone-like score plays up the friendship, with flashbacks to the youngsters’ happier days together, and a neat ending, in 2045, with Yi-che’s grown daughter (Anne Suzuki, from “Returner” and “Snow Falling on Cedars”), has a gentle wistfulness. But overall, pic suffers from trying to be too many things at the same time.

Film was shot in Taiwan, with most of the dialogue in Japanese and Mandarin.

Moon Child

Japan

Production: A Shochiku Co. release of a Tokyo Broadcasting System, Shochiku, the Mainichi Newspapers, Wowow, Mainichi Broadcasting System, Culture Publishers, the Sports Nippon Newspapers presentation of a Twins Japan production. (International sales: Shochiku, Tokyo.) Produced by Takashi Hirano. Executive producers, Morihiro Kodama, Hideshi Miyajima. Co-producers, Satoshi Kanno, Atsuyuki Shimoda. Directed by Takahisa Zeze. Screenplay, Gackt, Zeze, Kisyu Izuchi. (Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien dialogue)

Crew: Camera (color), Takahide Shibanushi; editor, Masahiro Onaga; music, Goro Yasukawa; production designer, Tomoyuki Maruo; sound (Dolby SR). Reviewed at Puchon Intl. Fantastic Film Festival (competing), South Korea, July 14, 2003. Running time: 115 MIN.

With: With: Hyde, Gackt, Wang Lee-hom, Taro Yamamoto, Susumu Terajima, Zeny Kwok, Anne Suzuki, Ryo Ishibashi, Etsushi Toyokawa, Li Li-chun.

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