January 23, 2010
January 23, 2010
I thought I’d give the classical literature a rest this week and spend my next few columns talking about vampires – for reasons which will become clear shortly. The figure of the blood, or life, draining monster is a familiar one from tales of the supernatural the world over, with the nosferatu in Europe, the al-ghūl in Arabia, and the jiāngshī 殭屍 in China. Each of these has its own characteristics, and each has been adopted to a greater or lesser extent by a variety of media for fictional representation, which has often produced a mythology about the creatures which has more reality in popular imagination than the old folk-wisdom now does.
Without doubt, the most well-known of these is, of course, the vampire, which has enjoyed waves of popularity ever since Bram Stoker adapted tales of the nosferatu for Dracula in 1897. As I’m sure you know, there have been a series of cinematic tales about the Count, or his family (or even his dog – does Zoltan, Hound of Dracula sound familiar to anyone?), starting with Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, continuing in the 1930s with Universal Studios’ Dracula films, Hammer Horror’s versions with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and culminating in Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which converted Stoker’s cold-hearted monster into a passionate, and thwarted, lover. Simultaneously there have been any number of other films about vampires, ranging from straight horror to farcical comedy.
The vampire has also been influential on the small screen, too, with Joss Whedon’s Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) being the most famous example, and the first to use battling the supernatural as a metaphor for the journey from child to adult. More recently, Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries have been adapted for television as True Blood, which is aimed at a much more adult audience, and uses the plot theme of vampires going ‘public’ to explore concepts of racism and discrimination – as well as the steamy eroticism and barely concealed violence often stereotypically associated with the Deep South of the US. At the same time, there’s been a boom in vampire-related fiction, aimed at a whole gamut of age-ranges and readerships: there are literary descendants of Buffy such as Vampire Academy with teen angst converted to vampire angst, innumerable ‘paranormal romance’ titles, such as J. R. Ward’s tales of the Black Dagger Brotherhood about the difficulties of relationships with a vampire lover, and crossover works such as Laurell K. Hamilton’s long running Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series which began as relatively straight horror in a modern, twentieth century setting, and has morphed into romance and erotica, and back, as it has continued. Currently, of course, the single most popular vampire-related tale worldwide is Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, which has legions of, mainly teenaged female, fans, pining over the relationship between its protagonists: ordinary high-school girl Bella Swann and Edward Cullen, her vampire true love – Japan is definitely no exception to this, with the translations of Meyer’s books selling well, and the first film and second films in the series generating large audiences.
As you may have guessed from the above, I’m something of a fan of fantasy and horror in all its incarnations, and am always on the lookout for a new series to try out, whether it be on television, or in book form, so I was pleased to find out when I was in Japan last summer that one of the most popular new television dramas was a vampire tale, and I settled in to watch it with interest, wondering what the Japanese take on the story would be. The show was called Koishite Akuma Vampaia Bōi 恋して悪魔ヴァンパイアボーイ, and featured one of the latest teen heartthrobs, fifteen year old Nakayama Yuma 中山優馬 as the eponymous protagonist. The title is a play-on-words, as it’s both ‘He Loves and is a Devil – the Vampire Boy’ or ‘Love me, Devil – Vampire Boy’ – either way, you can get a good sense of the plot from the title, and it soon became apparent that this was, indeed, a school-set vampire love story, and can only have been inspired by Twilight’s success, I think.
That being said, however, the programme closely followed the standard conventions for Japanese popular television drama, which made it a very different animal from Meyer’s works, and it was illuminating to watch for that reason – seeing how the plot arc was developed across the ten episodes of the story (Japanese dramas are almost always short and self-contained) provided me with a number of insights into what the Japanese expect and find entertaining in a television programme, which in turn can provide a degree of insight into the national character – if one can talk of such a thing.
Now that I’ve whetted your appetite, next week, I’ll take a look at plots of both Twilight and Koishite Akuma and see how they differ in approach and resolution.