First Love

Vampire Owl: This is quite an interesting title for the first Japanese movie that we are going to watch. More power to Asian movies after Korean and Chinese.

Vampire Bat: That would actually be Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.

Vampire Owl: What was that one all about?

Vampire Bat: It has the grand tale of William Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Macbeth, shining bright in a different form here.

Vampire Owl: So, we have had another adaptation of Macbeth. This should connect to the Japanese setting, right?

Vampire Bat: Yes, it moves from Medieval Scotland to feudal Japan, and becomes a special classic in itself.

Vampire Owl: I have heard that there were some great Japanese movies during those times.

Vampire Bat: Yes, you know that Akira Kurosawa is considered to be one of the biggest names in world cinema.

Vampire Owl: I remember reading about that quite well.

Vampire Bat: Let us get back to this movie which won’t be the first Japanese film I watched, but it will surely be the first Japanese flick to be revealed on this site. Take that Polaroid camera too, let’s take some photos.

[Gets a blueberry cake and three cups of iced tea].

What is the movie about? :: Leo Katsuragi (Masataka Kubota) works at a popular Chinese restaurant in Kabukicho suburb of Tokyo city, which happens to be an entertainment and red-light district in Japan’s busy prefecture. Abandoned as a child, and with nobody to care for, he lives his life all for himself, while participating in local fights as a boxer – supposed to be one of the best young rising boxers and the future of Japan’s boxing talents. But that changes after losing a match, getting knocked down by a weaker punch from a comparatively weaker opponent, much to the dismay of himself and his supporters among the crowd. As Leo visited the hospital, he is told by the doctor there that he has an advanced tumor in her head, and even a treatment might not lead to recovery, making him sure that he is going to die soon enough. With nobody to take care of him, and no hope for future, he just wanders around the city, abusing the fortune-teller who predicts for him a very long life, and no more loneliness.

So, what happens with the events here? :: The city has many groups of transnational organized crime syndicates going strong, and the most powerful of them is yakuza, a mafia-like criminal organization. A corrupt police officer Otomo (Nao Omori) and a yakuza member Kase (Shota Sometani) has a special plan to outsmart the gangsters as well as the police. It is into this plan that a young girl Yuri (Sakurako Konishi) enters. She is sold in prostitution to pay her father’s heavy debts by the call girl name of Monica, and is trapped by a yakuza named Yasu (Takahiro Miura) and his girlfriend Julie (Rebecca Eri Rabone) The two intended to make use of the beautiful young girl for adding further profit to their drug business, making Yuri herself a drug addict. One day, when Otomo is going through his plan, making Yuri also a part of it, she runs away from him hallucinating, and is saved by Leo who knocks him out with a punch. This leads to a butterfly effect which changes everything – the question remains about who all will survive now!

The defence of First Love :: Even though doubts were there in the beginning, First Love is not just focusing on the crime action thrills, as it chooses for fine performances mostly from its protagonists, and then from the rest of the cast. When it is into action, it is furious, but in a believable way, and there are heads rolling for sure. There is no overdose of action though, with flying bodies like in some of those dumb Bollywood movies from the past, and maybe even present. Those were the movies when common men suddenly became super-powered Avenger-kind of people, but here, they have the fights going more realistic, and there is a limit set to the violence too, and that comes as a surprise considering the kind of theme this movie is dealing with. It also leaves some some positive messages with the tale of the two main characters finding hope and life – there is also some fine feel-good factor coming into the play in the end, at it is indeed a lovely ending for a movie which seemed so dark, but not without some humour.

The claws of flaw :: If you are expecting full blood and gore in this movie considering how it began with the gangsters, you are not going to get that. First Love also takes some time to get into its action, and does need time to become interesting. The inciting incident comes a little late for a movie like this. There are some animated sequences, which though do look good, but adds nothing to the movie which should have continued its usual style. You are also going to find a few things being repeated here, which is quite natural for this genre. There can also be a problem with identifying the characters in the beginning, because there are too many of them, and they are all coming and talking about one thing and the other – after all, most of us are people who got not much of an information about these criminal groups and gangsters. The gangs like triads and yakuza are not known to most of our audience in this part of the world, and took me quite some time to figure things out in the early stages of the movie.

Performers of the soul :: The performances start here with Masataka Kubota who plays the young boxer in a very much believable manner, as he moves from solitude to finding someone he could help before he might die. We can see the change in him, and there is no superhuman fights being done by him, as everything stays within the perfect limits. Sakurako Konishi, from her first appearance also becomes the bright spot of the movie, as she also undergoes an evolution which is bigger than that of the main hero. It is her coming-of-age story, the bildungsroman that changes her from the hopeless drug addict and prostitute which she has been since childhood, and we see the smile out of happiness for the first time inside Tokyo metro, and that is the sign of the change which is to come, which she does in a brilliant way. Rebecca Eri Rabone a.k.a. Becky is the other female actress who scores high, as she also gets her dose of action. Nao Omori and Shota Sometani are two others who are more into action nicely. The other actors are usual, and does their jobs naturally in the crime thriller made out of action sequences.

How it finishes :: There is plenty of action going on in First Love, and there will be blood and gore even though not to that very high level – do not be fooled by the name of the movie, because except for some slight, indirect romance which is always there, this has nothing to do with love, except for maybe love for fellow humans as said in the religious texts. Along with all the action and thrilling moments, the movie also provides that message, not to live just for you as a selfish human being and to use the skills for helping others, thus finding meaning and hope in life, not just for you, but also for those people whose lives will undergo some fine changes with your help. The whole thing remains stylish and cool, with the viewers having a very satisfying experience, as the movie never really steps back in its quality since the action gets incited. First Love is one Japanese movie which you can add to your list of foreign regional flicks that need to be watched.

Release date: 17th May 2019
Running time: 108 minutes
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Starring: Masataka Kubota, Sakurako Konishi, Rebecca Eri Rabone, Maimi Yajima, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Takahiro Miura, Mami Fujioka, Yen Cheng-kuo, Duan Chun-hao, Masayuki Deai, Jun Murakami, Kenichi Takitoh, Bengal, Sansei Shiomi, Seiyo Uchino

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.

The Forest

Vampire Owl: I once went to this particular forest known for suicides.

Vampire Bat: And then what happened?

Vampire Owl: I just couldn’t live up-to its reputation as I had already died.

Vampire Bat: Even the undead can die, you know.

Vampire Owl: Yes, but the ghosts were against it. They told me that it is cheating.

Vampire Bat: Why did you even have to listen to them?

Vampire Owl: Well, they told me that they would transform me into a human.

Vampire Bat: What? It is so cruel. It would have been better to keep split personalities instead.

Vampire Owl: Yes, I just couldn’t bear being part of an inherently evil species. So, I said no.

Vampire Bat: I have to say that you did the right thing this time. The blood wars are coming, and we have to say no to more than one thing.

[Gets three cups of lemon tea with 50-50 biscuits].

What is the movie about? :: Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) is spending her time with her fiance, Rob (Eoin Macken), and is having some happy moments of her life in her home in the United States of America when she gets an unexpected call from Japan. She is informed that her twin sister, Jess Price (again Natalie Dormer) is dead. The idea is that she was last seen going into Aokigahara forest known more as the Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees, and those who go there alone at night rarely come back as it is a place where people commit suicide. It is rather believed to be the most popular suicide destination in the world which has so many strange tales associated with it. The forest is known to be home to yurei or or rather the ghosts of Japanese mythology. It is also said that long ago, the elderly or unwell people were left to die in the forest, and the place had its dead bodies and ghosts from centuries ago. The place has that kind of a terrifying reputation.

So, what happens next? :: But that doesn’t stop Sara from looking for her sister, and despite the concerns of Rob, she travels to Japan, and after talking to the people at the school where she was teaching, gets to the hotel where Jess was staying. There she meets a man named Aiden (Taylor Kinney) with whom she share a drink and they become friends. After listening to her story, he tells her that he is a photographer and will accompany her to the forest. They are also to be accompanied by a guide named Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) whose presence will help them to get out of the forest if they lose their way or if anything goes wrong. As they go to the forest, Michi tells her that Jess should most probably be dead, and there is nothing changing the same. But Sara says that it is not possible, and as they are twins, she will somehow know if she was dead. She is quite convinced that her sister would never commit suicide.

And, what is to follow next in the adventure? :: After traveling for some time in the forest, they come across the tent which Jess had used, but it was nearing nightfall, and Michi tells them that they have to go back as soon as possible. But Sara is convinced that the best option for them is to stay there, as Jess might come back to the tent by night. But Michi tells her that it is not safe, as the forest has its own ghosts, and they will make her see things which will drive her mad, and it will be she who will be lost on the next day. With their best efforts not seeing anything good in the end, Aiden says that he will stay with her throughout the night, and Michi leaves them to what seems to be a complicated fate. So, by staying in the dark forest which is believed to have more spirits than people, can Sara finally find Jess, and can at least one of the two sisters return home alive from the forest? Well, it is not that simple as it seems to be.

The defence of The Forest :: Aokigahara Forest is a nice location for a change, and with the tales that are told about the same, we become more and more interesting in watching a horror movie based on the same location. Natalie Dormer does a very good job as the twins here, and we are glad to see her in two roles, and she does her job very well. Known the best for her work in Game of Thrones series and also in The Hunger Games, it is great to see the talented actress doing the big role in a horror movie. The forest is also a solid character by itself, as we see possibilities going endless from the beginning itself. It does bring the question about what really is the reality and what is the hallucination – something that the ghosts use to confuse its new preys. The visuals are nicely used to support the same, and we surely have to say that there is an attempt to go different here.

The claws of flaw :: The movie could have surely used more scares, especially with such a mysterious forest at the centre of everything – the site of tragedy and strange beliefs hasn’t got the due that it deserved. The Forest could have used more ghosts than any other movie, and the variety that it could have brought with its scares would have made it close to a masterpiece; but such an effort is certainly not made here. When such creepiness is around, you expect the scary side to hold on and get to be better, and it is something that you never see anywhere around here. This struggle to use the material in hand should feel strange for many viewers. It also has to be noted that other than Natalie Dormer, there is nothing much of a cast to do anything big. Maybe it is the lack of focus that bring the trouble rather than anything else, as we see the struggle towards the end from a movie which began so well.

How it finishes :: You will surely find The Forest to be a rather strange movie, which means that whether you like it or not, it is very difficult to ignore it. With Natalie Dormer in full form, you might expect more and more, and what you get might not satisfy you enough. If you consider the mystery elements more and the scares a little less, you will not find this one to be less interesting. As you think differently, you will find this movie to catch your attention with its divergence. After all, it is one reality that we have in our lives, and the inability to understand what is real and what is unreal, and what is good and what is evil, is something that should be scary even out of the limits of a horror movie. Well, this one is creepy enough, and you just need to read less number of reviews before watching this movie. You remember the movie Pet, which was different in its own way.

Release date: 8th January 2016
Running time: 93 minutes
Directed by: Jason Zada
Starring: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Eoin Macken, Rina Takasaki, Noriko Sakura, Yûho Yamashita, James Owen

@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Vampire Owl: I know this person, for I remember this name, but just can’t figure out from when and where.

Vampire Bat: Do you need to go through a memory recovery programme? It is a new method.

Vampire Owl: I know what Doctor Frankenstein does with his new series of programmes. So, let me figure it out myself.

Vampire Bat: It is a simple name, but certainly not common. You should have remembered the person if there was a chance.

Vampire Owl: Yes, I should have at least remembered the two strings.

Vampire Bat: Are you sure that you don’t need at least a memory vial?

Vampire Owl: Don’t ask me to have those chemicals made of dark matter.

Vampire Bat: Then, what would you need instead, to remember?

Vampire Owl: What about some inner peace?

Vampire Bat: The Kung Fu Panda has taken all of the same, after taking the form of the Vampire Panda.

[Gets three cups of ginger tea with a piece of ghee cake].

What is the movie about? :: Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed young boy who spends his time in a cave near a colourful village. Living with his ill mother Sariatu (Charlize Theron), he makes a living with art of paper folding known as origami, and music with a three-stringed, Japanese musical instrument known as shamisen, both which he uses to tell the tales of a samurai warrior who is supposed to be his father. They just manage to survive, with his mother’s mental state getting worse, and they having just enough to make a living. But Sariatu keeps warning him about her twin sisters Karasu and Washi (Rooney Mara), as well as her father, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) who would take his other eye, as they had killed her husband, the samurai warrior of the tales of bravery, Hanzo (Matthew McConaughey). She forbids him from going out at night, in the moonlight.

So, what happens next in the movie? :: One day, Kameyo (Brenda Vaccaro), an old widow who loves Kubo like her grandchild, tells him about a festival which occurs at night, that involves people talking to their loved ones who had died. So, for a change, Kubo decides to stay through the darkness, and try to find the soul of his dead father, and know more of the story about them. But even with the other villagers seemingly having success over talking to the souls of their beloved, he seems to have no success at all. As he forgets to return home before the sunset, he is found by Sariatu’s evil twin sisters, who waste no time in asking him for his one remaining eye. The realisation is also upon Sariatu though, as she is quick to appear and save the boy, sending him away, while trying to go on a final battle with her sisters who will stop at nothing to get their nephew’s one remaining eye.

And what follows the same in the movie? :: Kubo wakes up later, in a land far away, with only a snow monkey to give him company, which is the last piece of his mother’s magic, and has promised to keep the boy alive at any cost. They go on hoping to find Hanzo’s armour which becomes necessary for their survival as they face a force as strong and hateful as the Moon King. On the way, they also meet a beetle in human form, which believes that it used to be a follower of Hanzo, and had fought many battles with him, even as nothing remains of those memories. But the evil twin sisters are already on their trail, and even after finding the Sword Unbreakable, they are still at a disadvantage against the strongest forces of their world. There is a long way to go, there is danger ahead – can Kubo and his two strange friends be brave and strong enough to face the threat?

The defence of Kubo and the Two Strings :: This one certainly has the story that will appeal to people of all ages. There is the tale of courage, faith, hope and belief which runs right through this movie. The sadness in the movie is beautiful, and the evil twin sisters make some nice villains in the moonlight. There are battles which will remind us that we miss Kung Fu Panda, and all main characters remain lovable, and kids are going to love the Monkey and the Beetle without doubt. There is also that variety in this world, and the visuals make another path, which is also nothing less than beautiful in its own way. There is the quest in the centre of all these, and we have one boy’s tale of courage that will keep things moving. There is also the strength of love, and the ultimate power of memories that humans hold on to, which become significant in the story of Kubo too. As you go deep, this is another animated movie which is not just for kids. There is also some humour here and there, but it is mostly for kids.

The claws of flaw :: The animation doesn’t stand a chance when compared to the other big animated movies like Moana, Zootopia, Frozen, How to Train Your Dragon, Inside Out, Epic and the rest who have made the effect of a spectacle, and Kubo and the Two Strings never even tries to do the same. The tale of the relatives and creatives seems rather too comfortable with how they end up becoming what they are. We are not much interested in the tales with monkey and beetles as warriors in a human world these days, as the turtles had found it the hard way in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its sequel. There is also that same programme, with everyone coming together and everything being brought together by the end, and there is something rather too comfortable around here. It can also be considered a little too dark for the liking of some people. Even with those strange twists, the movie is also very much predictable within its own tale, as the missing and gaining of parents doesn’t make one feel that much in such a darker animated flick – could have been more imaginative.

How it finishes :: Kubo and the Two Strings could have actually been better, with all the possibilities it has with the myth already there – not just with the story, but also with the rest of the elements, all making this a bigger visual experience. There is a lesson or two which this movie can take from Rise of the Guardians which looks similar with its characters, but is a better movie than this. We usually expect to connect to the main character more, and not as just a random kid who is special because his parents made the choice of a strange union. The movie seems to be more sincere to itself rather than its audience, and even the message sometimes feel strange – it tends to happen when there are talking monkeys and beetles who gets more importance than humans in a tale of a human child. But the importance of relationships with fellow human beings, memories, family and love are those things that come over the rest, it could be the main reason that won the flick, BAFTA for Best Animated Film and why it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, which eventually went to Zootopia.

PS: Have you watched The Mummy, Wonder Woman and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, yet at the theatres?

Release date: 19th August 2016
Running time: 102 minutes
Directed by: Travis Knight
Starring: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Matthew McConaughey, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Meyrick Murphy, Minae Noji, Alpha Takahashi, Laura Miro, Ken Takemoto

@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.

The Wolverine

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The sixth movie of the X-Men film series has been released on that day on which I had to submit my thesis, which I found to be a reason to identify myself with the Wolverine; with immortality reigning both in my that thesis of mine and also through the blood of our leading character in this movie. The fact that this movie follows the events of the 2006 movie and the worst one of the series, X-Men: The Last Stand was depressing, but not many people can deny Wolverine a.k.a Logan a visit after how well X-Men Origins: Wolverine turned out to be. It was when X-Men: First Class released, that the realization about how much we miss this character flashed through the mind which was full of absurdity. The movie was still good, and if we think about how much bigger that movie would have become with this character, there might be shocking box-office figures expected. This is the impact Wolverine brings with him, and he is that character who has the status that almost rivals most of the individual heroes like Spider-Man, Superman and Batman, and clearly makes an impression which none of the X-Men can make alone. This is that movie which can take all the other English movies out of the theatres here, and from the bookings happening right now, that is quite likely.

So, this installment of the movie series comes up without the X-Men tag added to its title, and it is clear that this is more about Wolverine than anything else, and there is enough power in it to survive without that tag. Chronologically, this is to be considered X-Men 4 though, as this doesn’t follow X-Men Origins: Wolverine as some had thought it would. Logan (Hugh Jackman) has been living the life of a recluse after the death of Jean Grey which was a major part of the events of X-Men: The Last Stand which practically ended the need for the existence of X-Men as there was a period of relative peace which followed. But there is no peace of mind for Logan as is frequently troubled by hallucinations nightmares about Jean, whom he was forced to kill, and a lesser memory from the Nagasaki bombing of 1945 where he saved the life of a Japanese soldier. He maintains very less contact with the human world, and stays in the wilderness most of the time. One day, during a fight with a group of hunters in a bar, he is found by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), another mutant, representing Ichirō Yashida, the man whom Logan had saved earlier. He is asked to go to Tokyo so that the dying man can possibly thank him and bid adieu, to which Logan reluctantly agrees.

After reaching Japan, Logan comes across Yashida’s son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada)and his grand daughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), both seemingly having problems with the relationship with eachother. Yashida offers Logan the opportunity of a transfer of mutant powers to get rid of his immortality and die in peace instead of living in nightmares and pain. Logan refuses to transfer his powers to the dying man, and is later informed that Yashida has died. During the funeral, he saves Mariko from the assassins of an enemy clan with help from Kenuichio Harada (Will Yun Lee), an archer and Mariko’s lover. They get onboard a train and more opponents are encountered in a fighting sequence which involves combat even on the top of the train. While fighting, Logan is shot multiple times and finds out that he is not healing instantly as he used to, and has to be taken care of by a doctor. With another mutant, Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) chasing him for his powers, and Mariko being hunted by her own father for the control of the family business empire, Logan has more to deal with this time, at a time when he is losing his powers and has become incredibly close to mortality. But this would lead to that moment which he needs to get rid of the psychotic monster that his lover was, from his head. It might be worth fighting for.

It is fair to say that Hugh Jackman controls this movie and makes the whole thing work as if he is playing that much of a superhero as Spider-man, Superman or Batman. Wolverine has turned out to be the one mutant who can work out alone and be the saviour of the world alone. Hugh Jackman has achieved all these alone, and from what it seems, this could get a better box-office collection that X-Men: First Class which had so many more mutants with interesting powers. I would consider that one the better movie, but this one has Hugh Jackman and he has done magic with his character, something which would depress the audience if someone else was to play the Wolverine, from what it seems right now. The possibility of a stand-alone expansion to X-Men has been wonderfully done through his character. X-Men: The Last Stand might have dminished the scope of the whole franchise, and had made X-Men: First Class suffer; but the case of the movies featuring Wolverine as the hero would be different, and Hugh Jackman scores again and again right there. He was there as Leopold in Kate & Leopold, as Gabriel Van Helsing in Van Helsing, and as our favourite robot-controlling boxer in Real Steel. But what Wolverine does, stays not only with one movie, as the man has made the character bigger than what one mutant could ever be, and that is worth all the respect.

Haruhiko Yamanouchi as Ichirō Yashida brings surprises, and be ready for it. Tao Okamoto as Mariko Yashida brings a kind of serenity to the world which is otherwise full of heavy action and hidden evil. Rila Fukushima as Yukio adds to the martial arts segment of the movie, and as a mutant, she is one of the main three gifted people in the movie, and may be the more physically trained and skilled one among them. Will Yun Lee as Kenuichio Harada and Hiroyuki Sanada as Shingen Yashida also adds to the martial arts powered action sequences. Meanwhile, Svetlana Khodchenkova makes an entrance as Viper, a poisonous mutant immune to toxins, resembling a snake in many ways. She is seen as the most powerful and the most vigorous enemy of Wolverine and Mariko until the Silver Samurai finally shows up covered in adamantium armour and holding an adamantium sword of immense power. Famke Janssen is also there as Jean Grey, but more as a hallucination or nightmare for the protagonist, but still the character portrayed better than X-Men: The Last Stand. This is hundred percent a better Jean Grey than that of the third movie of the X-Men franchise. It is a vital presence, even as it is not real. There is also a post-credits scene involing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto respectively.

Even in the presence of the psychological elements, the movie runs on its action sequences, and some of the one-liners as the others lack innovation. The battle of the claws against the swords of the samurai makes an impact, but I would still prefer the usual mutant battles, or the Wolverine v/s Sabretooth head-to-head combats. The action sequence on the bullet train came as no surprise, and it was indeed powerful. The most interesting thing is that all these action sequences and interesting dialogues happen around Wolverine, and the whole situation is about him, just like the title suggests. Everyone else just revolves around the character, and with Hugh Jackman holding one end strongly, there is no need for anything spectacular. There was always the need for balance, and it is attained by the Wolverine suffering from that pain which Louis de Pointe du Lac seemed to suffer in Interview with the Vampire, the only difference being the lack of need for blood which is replaced by the need for combat. As Louis wished for death as he hated his inability to act, Wolverine hated his life as he had acted in such a way that he lost control of his world even as he saved the same. Both were reborn as hunters, weren’t they? Both were seemingly indestructible, and both were clear misfits in a world which had no place for them.

There are a few things one has to be aware of; this one is not an origin story, but still it moves on like one, with a good amount of slower moments. The 3D was almost unnecessary. It also has a predictable climax and not too surprising twist which supports it. There is the absence of an imposing villain, as the one expected challenge for Wolverine is unleashed only the end, but that too within limitations. There is so much left on the shoulders of Hugh Jackman. But still the man with the claws cannot be resisted. X2: X-Men United would still be the best of the franchise, followed by X-Men: First Class, the first entry of the series, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But there will be more hope about X-Men: Days of Future Past which combines the cast of all these movies. For now, The Wolverine will do just fine at the box-office, as this week doesn’t have many powerful competitors around here, which has caused Pacific Rim to bounce back. Turbo, Despicable Me 2 and Man of Steel hasn’t left the theatres too, but they should worry this one less. We need X-Men, and we need Wolverine, and therefore we will need to watch this movie – even with varying thoughts about the X-Men movies which we can agree to disagree on. I would still miss Nightcrawler and Shadowcat, and that fact diminishes this X-Men world.

Release date: 26th July 2013
Running time: 126 minutes
Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Brian Tee, Patrick Stewart (cameo), Ian McKellen (cameo)

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@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.