Lake of Dracula
1971 / Colour / 82 m. / Japan / Noroi no yakata: Chi wo su me
Starring: Mori Kishida, Midori Fujita, Osahide Takahashi, Sanae Emi, Shuji Otaki, Tadao Fumi, Wataru Omae, Yasuzo Ogawa, Keiichi Noda
Cinematography: Rokuro Nishigaki
Production Designer: Shigichi Ikuno
Film Editor: Hisashi Kondo
Original Music: Riichiro Manabe
Written by: El Ogawa and Masaru Takesue
Produced by: Fumio Tanaka
Directed by: Michio Yamamoto
Reviewed by Lee Broughton
Akiko’s (Midori Fujita) idyllic life in her countryside cottage near Lake Fujimi is disturbed by a series of flashbacks which replay a childhood nightmare in which she wanders into a spooky mansion and is startled by a fearsome, golden-eyed vampire (Mori Kishida). Akiko’s boyfriend, Saeki (Osahide Takahashi), is a doctor at the city hospital and he figures that the vampire simply represents a “hypothetical enemy” routinely conjured up by her subconscious. But when an ornate coffin is delivered to the Lake’s boathouse and a local girl is subsequently submitted to Saeki’s hospital suffering from vampiric malaise, Saeki reluctantly concedes that Akiko just might be in real danger.
Count Dracula in modern day (1971) Japan? Not quite. But it seems that the Count did at some point bond with a Japanese girl and, several generations later, one of the pair’s male descendants somehow matured into a vampire. If you can swallow this back-story then you’re home and dry because, by keeping the rest of the plot relatively simple, Michio Yamamoto (a former assistant to Akira Kurosawa) has put together one of the horror genre’s more plausible “modern day vampire” films. Granted, some of the scenarios presented here have a slightly campy feel about them but Yamamoto still manages to successfully throw a fair amount of suspense, and some effective audience-jolting “boo!” moments, into the film’s atmospheric and reasonably gothic mix.
Much of the film’s success rests upon the feelings of isolation and confusion that are convincingly emoted by the likeable but unexciting Akiko: as well as being physically isolated by virtue of her rural abode, she’s also somewhat emotionally isolated too. Although she is genuinely worried by the content of her flashbacks, Akiko receives little real support from Saeki, who seems more committed to his career than their relationship, or her hip but mischievous and envious younger sister, Natsuko (Sanae Emi). Consequently we’re left feeling that the sensitive and artistic Akiko deserves better. Instead she finds herself in extreme peril when her only other regular acquaintance, a friendly handyman from the nearby boathouse, becomes a Renfield-like slave to the newly arrived vampire.
Mori Kishida’s vampire is a convincing and extremely menacing and feral character. Imposing and physically powerful, this vampire’s skin (just like that of his subsequent victims) displays a noticeable and unsettling zombie-like pallor. Furthermore, his dark clothes are offset by a luminous long white scarf and this odd but striking addition to the vampire’s wardrobe really enhances his already strange and sinister appearance.
While Lake of Dracula inevitably contains a couple of unpleasant moments its content is rarely any more graphic than that of Hammer Films’ Dracula features from the 1960s. Having said that, the vampire’s protracted death throes and his piercing final scream do make for a fairly bloody and intense finale. Interestingly, there’s nothing remotely “Japanese” about any of the vampiric elements in this tale: the film simply relocates the familiar stuff of European legends and Hollywood films to Japan. In fact, the back-story appears to imply that vampirism was completely foreign to Japan prior to Dracula’s visit.
Lake of Dracula can’t really claim to bring anything new to the genre beyond its location and its vampire’s novel appearance. However, it remains a finely crafted film that unfolds at a pleasingly measured and even pace. Indeed, Yamamoto’s decision to allow the film’s supernatural aspects to slowly build and then steadily work their way towards centre stage allows Lake of Dracula’s modern day vampire elements to enter the film’s narrative in an unforced and believable way.
The cinematography on display here is consistently good, boasting some neat camera placement and some expert framing and compositional work: the stylized flashback sequences are particularly well staged and feature some interesting set designs. Alas, the film’s music is a bit of a mixed bag, playing highly effectively one minute and slightly incongruously the next. Ill-fitting music gripes notwithstanding, Lake of Dracula remains a diverting “must see” for fans of modern day vampire flicks.
Psychotronic Cinemas rating: Very Good
Note: Lake of Dracula was followed by Michio Yamamoto’s Evil of Dracula in 1974.
© Copyright 2003, 2015 Lee Broughton.