Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Onna kyûketsuki (1959)

... aka: Lady Vampire, The
... aka: Vampire Man
... aka: Woman Vampire, The

Directed by:
Nobuo Nakagawa

Late for his girlfriend's birthday party, Tokyo Times reporter Tamio Oki (Keinosuke Wada) and his taxi driver are speeding through the streets when a woman walks out in front of their car. Thinking they've hit her, the two get out only to discover that there's no body. Once they arrive at their destination, Tamio gets another glimpse of the same woman hanging out in the garden, but she disappears again. He goes in, finds his girlfriend Itsuko (Junko Ikeuchi) a little upset at him (well, until he hands over a present) and everyone gets started dancing, singing and eating cake. That is, until a surprise visitor stops in unexpectedly. That visitor is Miwako (Yôko Mihara), who disappeared twenty years ago when Itsuko was just a baby. Needless to say, Itsuko's father / Miwako's husband, Shigekatso (Torahiko Nakamura) is shocked to see her again, and even more shocked that she looks identical to the young bride he'd married over two decades earlier. Seeing as how she hasn't aged a day, Shigekatso calls in a doctor friend to look her over. He's unable to come up with any explanation for it, but Miwako is weak, confused and suffers from partial amnesia. She needs her sleep.

While mum's resting, Tamio takes Itsuko to an art gallery and, low and behold, the two find that the award-winning painting is a nude portrait of Miwako. No one knows the first thing about the artist who painted it, but he goes by the name Shiro Sofue (Shigeru Amachi), and he's the dude always wearing shades in the daytime and accompanied by a dwarf sidekick he calls "Tiny." Shiro's real name is Nobutaka Takenaka and he's not quite human. OK, he's a centuries old vampire somehow connected to Miwako's bloodline, which is explained in a lengthy and confusing flashback. In a bizarre touch which injects werewolf mythos into the proceedings, the vampire is set off by the glow of the moon, which makes him uglier, fanged and clawed, and drives him into a murderous rampage. He kills a hotel maid and, when exposed in a nightclub, kills six different women. And you know how in most vampire movies the vampire casts no reflection? This film has scenes where the vampire is invisible and can ONLY be seen as a reflection in mirrors.

Naturally, Nobutaka / Shiro was the one to kidnap and entrance Miwako years earlier and now he wants his runaway bride back, even though she doesn't love him. After getting a slew of reporters and police officers on his tail for the murders, he finally manages to capture Miwako and retreats to his castle home. His castle is in the mountains hidden underground through a cave system and he shares company there with not only the dwarf but other ill-defined "monsters" such as a white-haired old witch and a bald strongman. The ladies in Nobutaka's life who've betrayed him over the years have been turned into statues that decorate the place.

Aside from its historical importance as one of the first Japanese vampire films and one of the earliest vampire films set in contemporary times, this boasts a very charismatic performance from Amachi. The film also has numerous impressive shots (with especially excellent use made of mirrors throughout the film), nice use of widescreen photography (with some breathtaking outdoor shots), very moody lighting and some striking minimalist set designs. Unfortunately, these pluses are all but thrown out the window by an awful final 20 minutes. Once Tamio, Itsuko and a slew of police invade the underground castle, the movie pretty much becomes an unintentionally hilarious disaster. For starters, the sets look incredibly cheap, with floors and walls wobbling throughout the action. Secondly, the fight choreography is terrible, with the vampire suddenly going all Errol Flynn with a fencing sword. The strongman's descent into a pool of bubbling water is done with all the finesse of Tor Johnson and watching the dwarf chase the screaming leading lady around all over the place is just plain comical.

Confused mythology doesn't help matters. I could care less about the fusion of vampire and werewolf tendencies for the villain, but little is explained. The link between his bloodline and the heroine's isn't adequately explained either (he does mention he likes the taste of their blood, but that doesn't count). Neither is how he became a vampire in the first place or who / what the dwarf, old woman and strongman are. Why does the moon turn him into a murderous beast throughout the film, but at the very end turn him into a white-haired corpse? There are lots of frustrating inconsistencies here. Too bad.

Nakagawa also made the impressive THE GHOST OF KASANE SWAMP (1957) and THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA (1959), as well as JIGOKU (1960), which many claim is the first gore film. Watch any of those and skip this one.


1 comment:

CavedogRob said...

Too bad this falls apart. But if it didn't I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the line "with all the finesse of Tor Johnson"!

JIGOKU though is great!

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