Vampires and contempo samurai schoolkids make an uneasy mix in the so-so Japanese frightfest “Higanjima,” adapted from Koji Matsumoto’s popular manga series. South Korean helmer Kim Tae-kyun (“Volcano High”) tries to compensate for a sketchy story with sheer velocity, but the overall lack of substance undercuts Kim’s genre ambitions. Japanese theatrical release is set for January, with low-level ancillary sales shaping up in the West.
A promising, spooky-but-fun opening sequence shows a salaryman being stalked by vampiric Japanese peasants; post-credits, the fun continues with an exhilarating pursuit of high-school student Akira (Hideo Ishiguro) by a violent gang. The scene economically introduces each of his buddies — including archer extraordinaire Yuki (former J-popster Miori Takimoto) — who help him escape. A rollicking good time seems to be in the cards, but nothing surpasses these first two setpieces.
The actual story starts as Akira is alerted to the whereabouts of his long-missing elder brother, Atsushi (Dai Watanabe), by sultry, leather-skirted Rei (Asami Mizukawa). Putting aside their reservations about the mysterious woman, Akira & Co. set sail for Vampire Island (the title’s direct translation), where Atsushi is battling the bloodsuckers.
Once the action moves to the island, the script seems determined to squeeze as much as possible of the original manga’s 24-book history into the two-hour running time. Battles with the vampires, led by Koji Yamanoto’s regal albino, soon take on a vidgame-like repetitiveness.
The appearance of a CGI, H.R. Giger-like monster comes a little too late to up the ante. Unsurprisingly, the pic ends with the door left open for a sequel.
The helmer, who made an international name for himself with kinetic high school martial-artser “Volcano High” in 2001, does his best to keep things moving. Performances punch the clock, though production values (apart from the CGI monster) are high-gloss. Hiroyuki Sawano delivers a screaming thrash-metal soundtrack.