Well, if there were ever a movie I would label as a ‘cult classic’ in a community; Moon Child would be it. It’s peak moment in Visual Kei, with the super star’s Hyde of L’Arc〜en 〜Ciel, and solo artist Gackt. Seeing that even now, this is the most shared film in various forums that ever ‘real’ Visual Kei fan has seen.
This film, upon my second rewatch I’ve realized is actually one of my favorites. Before we get into that though, let’s talk story!
At the turn of the century, we meet Kei (Hyde) a modern day Japanese vampire wandering the world looking for a place to say. He ends up in the fictional city of Maleppa, an area known for crime and drugs, where the refugees and orphans alike gather and Kei encounters a young Sho. Sho (Gackt) eventually develops into being a gangster, with Kei at his side, and eventually gathering the brother-sister duo of Son (Leehom Wang) and Yi Che. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes fracturing their group dynamic, and forcing Kei to flee. As the years pass, more circumstances pile up but Kei and Sho are bound together for an ending you’ll never anticipate.
For 2003, this full length feature film has held up surprisingly well in comparison to many of it’s contemporaries of the time. I had watched this film once before back in college, when I was in my prime fangirl phase. It was old then, and it feels even older now, but there’s a certain amount of fondness I have for the film. I chalked a lot of the initial enjoyment due to bias, and that’s not a bad thing.
I figured with this second watch through, with just a bit more critical thinking skills and film analysis in place, that I would find chinks in the armor of Moon Child. That there would be some element to the film that would have aged like milk, and I steeled myself by seemingly removing the nostalgia glasses. I might have failed in that regard, since even in my second viewing, Moon Child has aged surprisingly well.
It’s a film that isn’t masquerading or attempting to be anything more than it is. It’s an action thriller film starring two of the biggest names in JRock and that’s it. That’s not to say this film doesn’t have substance to it. A lot of the social commentary about Maleppa regarding refugees, racism, and gang life isn’t coming out of no where. That commentary serves to give substance to the events within the film, and help bridge the gaps in action, but they’re not the main point.
Moon Child‘s main point, at least to me, is to tell an entertaining story. There’s moments that will be thought provoking, and you can tell it took cues from other films at the time, but Moon Child isn’t trying to be some academy award winning piece. It’s meant to be fun to watch with a goth-y vampire, and somewhat wholesome with the found family premise.
What makes that work as a premise and all these years later, is that most if not all the characters are self aware of their circumstances. They aren’t ignorant to the fact that try as they might, they too are part of a social cycle that might get them killed. The only outlier being Kei, since he’s an immortal vampire whose self aware of his own circumstances to the point of being a bit of a whiner.
Kei hates himself, and what he has to do to survive. He acknowledges that if he let’s his self hatred from the past get in the way of his future, that it comes at a cost of his small social circle that he is painfully aware is finite. He makes a point of telling Sho, that Sho will die before him. Either through gang violence, or old age because Kei hasn’t changed since we’ve met him on screen, and never will.
Yet, despite all those setting comments, and Kei’s self awareness; the characters of Moon Child come together in a hodge-podged family unit. Yi Che is Son’s sister, whose non-verbal and the mother of the group, taking care of all of them after their various heists. She expresses everything in action, and it’s one of the most performances in the whole film. Toshi and Sho are the two refugees to the area that speak a mix of Japanese and Chinese, and are brothers in arms. They are added to by Son, who only speaks Chinese, and has to be translated for by Sho and Kei. Their dynamic is always a shown, never explained. We see the snippets that bring them together sewn together on screen and we see how quickly undone they are as well.
Moon Child has both strengths and weaknesses to it’s pacing. There’s a fair amount of scenes ending, and city life being displayed with an on screen note of how much time has passed. Considering this story takes place over the span of 45-ish years, and has a character like Kei in the mix, these choices make sense. They’re a bit jarring, but you get use to the beats where they’ll show up and it smoothes out.
The director in these time cuts, also made the choice of cutting a lot of scenes that some might consider important. Instead, Zeze Takahisa relied the audience to be able to do simple math and piece together events unshown themselves. There’s no point in wasting five minutes montaging scenes that explain what happened between ‘then’ and ‘now’ if they aren’t going to play a serious part of the story. What the audience couldn’t imply, that information was supplied through very natural, non-info-dumped manner through two or more characters interacting.
These character interactions indeed, are what drove the story forward in most regards. Zeze Takahise knew what he was doing when we wrote the screenplay. As a lot of the character quips were written very well, especially balancing them between two languages, Chinese (unsure which dialect), and Japanese. Certain jokes would only pass through those that spoke one language or the other, and characters that missed it would either be bemused or ask for clarification. It made for quite a few interesting jokes, and even more for tension between the ‘legal’ residents of Maleppa and those who immigrated.
That being said, I can’t judge how well Hyde or Gackt were actually pronouncing their lines in Chinese. I have to say that for what their characters were anticipated to known at various times, their delivery seemed well enough. I also have to give kudos to Gackt because he did the majority of the intermediary work between Chinese only characters, and Japanese only ones. In the latter half of the film, he even came to bridge gaps between those two languages and English as well.
Back to the interactions, those only work when the actual characters themselves have chemistry and that’s what Moon Child has in droves. It’s very clear that both Gackt and Hyde have a very good relationship with each other, and that shows both on and off, camera. This was important considering that for both of them, this was also their first film and it easily could have gone south.
One could argue that the beginning scenes with both of them together on screen were two polar opposites. On one hand, you had Hyde under acting with limited expressions shown, and minimal body cues to go off of. The other hand you had Gackt seemingly over emoting everything, and giving off incredibly energetic gestures. Balancing the duo out was literally everyone else, mostly Leehom Wang serving as a balance between Gackt’s over emoting, and the Hyde’s under emoting. Yamamoto Taro as Toshi being the comedic relief to either push the scene forward, or break the tension. This weird dichotomy between Hyde and Gackt’s characters would later be remedied. The gap between Sho and Kei closing ever so slightly with the passage of time, that was smartly done.
I could go on forever about the film, because in re-watching it I’ve realized how much I really do cherish Moon Child. It’s a film that’s meant to be entertaining, and that’s what it does. Sure some of the costumes are dated, but there’s no significant holes in plot or execution to my viewing knowledge, that make this bad. It’s fun film to pass the time with.
As for Gackt, he would later go on to make select appearences in drama and film over the course of his current career. The most recent of which being Tonde Saitama back in 2019 but large in part focusing on his music. Hyde, would have one more movie appearance in Last Quarter of the Moon (unrelated to Moon Child) and then stuck with music.
If you can’t tell, I throughly enjoy Moon Child and would highly recommend it to anyone. As you can guess, this is available online through non-legitimate means. You just need ‘Moon Child + eng sub’ and you’ll find it. If you’ve seen Moon Child, what do you think about it? If you haven’t, did I get you curious about it? Either way, I’ll see you guys next post!