In a world overrun with special effects and massive over-production, it seems less and less emphasis is being placed on the actual performance, no matter what the medium. Fortunately, the new theatrical offering from Tatsuya Nakatani and Edward Wilkerson, Jr., Sanguivorous, delivers the same horror-bang as mainstream cinema, but in a ‘back-to-basics’ format that could, quite possibly, blow your mind. Carried by Santa Fe-based TidePoint Pictures and perfectly organized by Tetsuki Ijichi, Saturday night at the Kimo Theatre will never be the same. Mixing old-school vampire antics with new-age jazz acrobatics, Sanguivorous is simultaneously reminiscent of the long-forgotten, yet eternally safe golden-age of silent film while handing out chunks of live terror throughout the night.
It seems appropriate to point out that the film is silent. Yes! Silent….well, almost. If it were possible to ignore the incredible freestyle jazz improvisitions of Nakatani and Wilkerson, then it would be silent…but that is not the case. With Nakatani taking on most of the percussion duties handled by the duo, and Wilkerson managing primarily wood instruments, Sanguivorous begins as a face-melting free-form jazz show as good as any out there, and doesn’t stop until the lights come back on. What makes this production stand out from other improv musical acts is the fact that in this case, the score serves not only as a soundtrack, but also to hightlight the emotional spectrum of the actors, using ambient sound to direct the viewer into fits of fear. It’s awesome.
It should also be noted that the selection and use of instruments in Sanguivorous was anything but traditional; when asked how many total pieces of musical instruments the duo used throughout the course of the show, neither Nakatani or Wilkerson would venture a guess – too many to count. The show began with Nakatani using a bow on large gongs, creating a kind of creepy, buzzing sound which filled the always intimate auditorium of downtown Albuquerque’s Kimo Theatre. Meanwhile, Wilkerson kept the tempo at a chilling pace using a didgeridoo, lending to the impression that we were all alone, haunted by spectral specters, no one but ourselves to save us. A faint red light loomed over the stage; anticipation raced through the audience unlike any typical night-out at the movies. What the hell was going on here? Had we been summoned to serve as fodder for the undead? Was it true, did wily spirits run amok through the halls of the Kimo? And the film hadn’t even begun yet, though there were definitely one or two zombies in attendance.
When the bright light from the projector filled the room, reminding the audience that there was to be some visual stimulus to accompany the musicians and that this was indeed a horror movie screening, a second wave of excitement spilled throughout the crowd. How rad! After a lifetime of the same movie theatre experience consisting of popcorn, soda, and spoon-fed cheap thrills, it was truly enjoyable to take in a film using only the live-jazz accompaniment of Nakatani and Wilkerson to tell the story. Additionally, Ko Murobushi (as the pseudo-prince-of-darkness) lends an excellent performance to the film, which was originally entitled “Kyuketsu” and was voiced in Japanese with English subtitles. As the blood-sucking leader of an Osakan vampire cult, Mr. Murobushi incorporates his mastery of the butoh dance style into his role, and is actually quite disturbing, making for some of the most memorable imagery in the entire picture. It’s superfluous to include a synopsis of the plot, as it is sufficient to say it is a vampire movie. It’s also superfluous to use the word “superfluous”.
What is more important than the story of the film is the presentation of the medium. Though motion-picture originated as a silent art-form, accompanied only by live orchestra to serve as a guiding score to the subtitled dialogue, the way in which Sanguivorous melds the mediums of film and music feels completely new. The live presentation is completely immersing, raising the tension level of the audience through dynamic musical changes timed to coincide with striking imagery from the film. In an age of rampant media piracy, It is probable that this will become a preferred format for viewing film, as it places more emphasis on live attendance – viewing this at home would be great, but as most of the orchestration is improvised, there is truly something to be said for having been there.
Check out TidePoint Pictures for copies of the performance, as well as other avant-garde Japanese horror offerings.
Tatsuya Nakatani photo (c) John Whiting