Moon Child is the oddest movie. One part social commentary on racial tensions between Japanese and Taiwanese citizens living in the fictional city of Mallepa in the year 2014. One part martial arts action film staring Japanese rock stars Gackt and HYDE. One part low budget—my husband said he thought it looked like a home movie; and one part high — yet the film makers had enough going on to include a couple of Matrix-inspired fight scenes. And oh yes – one part vampire movie. The odd thing about it is that somehow, all these pieces work together and the movie is a delight.
And perhaps the truly oddest thing of all, despite the inclusion of a vampire into this improbable story of racial tensions, love, loyalty, family, friendship, loss, and tragedy, the film manages to be quiet affecting and deeply moving.
The pathos the film generates feels true.
I even cried at the end!
Gackt and HYDE
I think the film succeeds to be so emotionally solid is because the vampire is used not as a horror, or romantic, device, but as a cipher to allow the other characters, and the viewers, to explore what we really think about the possibly of eternal life and how far vows of loyalty can really extend. The film opens with the death of Luka – an older vampire accompanied by another vampire named Kei, played by HYDE, and then quickly jumps forward several years. We meet Sho, played by Gackt, his brother Shinji, and their friend Toshi. All three are Japanese orphans living on the streets and managing to survive by pick-pocketing wealth Taiwanese business and mafia men. And one day, as Sho runs away from an angry mark, he stumbles upon Kei, now long hair, pale, and disheveled. The man the boys stole from finds them and shoots Shinji in the leg, but Kei kills and feeds from him. Toshi and Shinji run away in horror but Sho comes closer, unafraid. This marks the beginning of their remarkable companionship.
The movie then follows the lives of Sho, Shinji, and Toshi, and eventually their friends Son and Yi-Chen, who are Taiwanese, as they rise through the ranks of the local mafia. But they all live very violent lives, something that Kei seems to realize all too well cannot last for long. And he’s right.
In one scene in particular, Sho and Kei argue over whether death is a blessing or a curse. Is death a natural and good ending to life? Or is existence, even a bare or monstrous one, better than no life at all? Sho’s wife lays dying of an inoperable brain tumor in the hospital and he begs Kei to transform her into a vampire, thus, in his mind, saving her life. But Kei argues that Sho is selfish. That to save her in that way would be to curse her, something he cannot do to anyone. But at least she’d live, Sho says. “That would be a blessing to me.” Ultimately, he cannot convince Kei to change her. These kinds of exchanges, heavy with philosophical and theological underpinning, are what good vampire movies make possible. By choosing to keep Kei appear human and act quite naturally at all times, the movie makes the fact that he is a vampire seem quite reasonable, thus allowing these larger questions to be voiced and explored.
The ending is a bit over-wrought. Sho, now in his late twenties and completely weary of life, goes on a suicide attack against the boss of a rival Taiwanese gang that includes his wife’s brother, and Sho’s former friend, Son. This is the gang that killed Toshi and his brother Shinji long ago. Sho considers the fact that Son joined them an unforgivable betrayal, even as he still loves his former friend. When the fight boils down to a show down between Sho and Son, Sho shoots out the roof so sunlight streams all around them, preventing Kei from being able to save him. Kei realizes then that Sho has planned to die all along. Son fatally wounds Sho and Kei braves the sun, killing him in his rage. Kei is devastated as he holds his dying friend and weeps “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” as he faces the terrible choice: does he allow Sho to die or does he turn him? I won’t reveal the final bits of the movie but lets just say they are total tear jerkers.
There are certainly moments of cheesiness and camp in the movie but it nevertheless offers interesting mediations on life and death, the ways in which life can pull the rug right out from under you and what you’re supposed to do when it happens, and the bonds of friendship. In a way, the fact that Kei is a vampire is purely incidental. He is simply the character the functions as an outsider to the terrible tragedy that is Sho’s life. Being neither Taiwanese nor Japanese, not being bound by the constrictions of poverty, not facing the pressures of hungry because of global politics but because he chooses not to feed, not the object of racial discrimination and hatred allows Kei the ability to view it all from above. And yet despite his transcendent position, he chooses to enmesh himself intimately with the messy flow of Sho’s all too short life. Kei knows that even if Sho simply grows old and dies peacefully from age, he will still be left behind and yet he chooses to stay close to Sho anyway. It is a lonely life of violence and uncertainty that Sho leads but a life isolated for all that is lonelier still.