Say what you will about where Higanjima ends, but it certainly starts off with a bang. A man covered in blood and dirt is running through the jungle in heavy rain on a dark night. He finds refuge in a small shack and slams the door shut as he struggles to catch his breath. He's safe for the moment, but you've seen this scene enough times to know he won't be safe for long. Sure enough vampires burst in and overtake him. His savior arrives in the form of a shadowy, bespectacled figure wielding a samurai sword. He dispatches the vampires swiftly and efficiently with no lack of blood shed. And ... cue title card!
Higanjima, based on a popular Japanese manga, is the name of an infamous island in the film thought to be inhabited by vampires. Akira is a typical teenager navigating the dangers of high school. His brother has gone missing and when Akira hears that his brother may be alive on Higanjima, he wastes no time assembling a crew of friends to travel to the island and find his brother.
Some of you may recognize the name of Higanjima director Tae-gyun Kim since he also wrote and directed WaSanGo, better known as Volcano High. MTV famously, or infamously depending on your opinion, picked up the film and dubbed it in English using well-known rap and hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg, Method Man and OutKast as well as current 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan. MTV broadcast this new version on their cable network back in 2003.
I still haven't caught Volcano High myself but I've heard good things, and in that same vein, there's plenty to enjoy in Higanjima. The very idea of an island full of vampires, for starters, as well as the use of samurai swords to dispatch them. There's plenty of blood and some truly awesome kills along the way. The action scenes are well shot and thankfully easy to follow. It seems like there's a trend these days to cut action quickly with all medium and close shots making it virtually impossible to tell where people are, who's fighting who and who's winning. Luckily, the filmmakers have steered clear of those potential pitfalls here.
The biggest problem with the film is that it's too long and not paced well enough for its length. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, Higanjima drags during long sections in between action scenes. The story just isn't interesting enough to sustain itself without more fight sequences spaced evenly throughout the movie. It doesn't help matters that the supposedly expository parts between kills are filled exclusively with people walking through the jungle, over and over again.
Towards the end of the film our young heroes find themselves embroiled in a climatic battle that involves a good deal of CG. A lot of people are going to say that it's overly cheesy, and while it is indeed a bit on the cheesy side, it works in the context of the film. This is an over-the-top horror-action hybrid that can be a lot of fun to watch and yes, sometimes it gets a little silly, but that's not always a bad thing. Some goofy fun can make for an enjoyable film.
Higanjima could be a very entertaining 80 minute ride. As it is, it's a bloated film that gets tedious the more it chugs along. It could be easily fixed with a good round of editing and released as a fast-paced vampire flick, so I hope someone picks it up and does just that. If in the future you come across it on DVD or Netflix, give it a shot, it's got some cool stuff going for it, but in its current state it's not worth actively hunting down.