By Hank Parmer
I didn't plan things out this way.
It's mostly coincidental that my follow-up review to a film featuring bunny-hopping Chinese vampires is this head-scratching take on the Land of the Rising Sun's own bloodsuckers, the ky˚ketsuki. I say "mostly" because the YouTube gnomes must have taken my self-inflicted ordeal with Robo Vampire to mean I wanted to see more vampire-themed flicks from the Far East, which is no doubt how this one ended up on their Recommended list.
Thankfully, compared to Robo Vampire, this flick is Citizen Kane. Which is admittedly setting the bar so low it's about a thousand feet down in the primordial ooze at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, but those little frills -- like trained actors, competent black and white widescreen cinematography, and a plot that for all its wha-da-fuckery isn't a shameless rip off of a far better film -- sure can make a difference.
I'll even go so far as to say there's some genuinely creepy and even rather twisted stuff in Vampire of Women (Onna Ky˚ketsuki). Although not quite in the way one might expect -- you'll see what I mean.
The director, Nobuo Nakagawa, made quite a name for himself in the horror genre during the '50s and '60s. His very next picture, Jigoku (1960), with its unsparingly bleak plot and lurid depictions of the Buddhist hells, is probably his most famous work. Many of Nakagawa's films have supernatural themes; quite a few of them are period melodramas featuring vengeful spirits, such as a retelling of the popular ghost story, "The Peony Lantern".
In fairness to this director, I've seen six or seven of his other movies, and they seemed to make some kind of sense at the time. This one, though, is set in modern times, as we follow the misadventures of a crazy, mixed-up monster who can't decide whether he's Lon Chaney, Jr. or Bela Lugosi.
The Vampire of Women opens with a taxi speeding through the night. Journalist Tamio Oki urges the driver to step on the gas, explaining he's late for his fiance Itsuko Matsumura's birthday party.
A woman darts in front of the taxi; the driver swerves to avoid her and the cab screeches to a stop. Tamio and the driver pile out of the taxi, certain they must have hit this jaywalker, only to find she has vanished into thin air. They even check under the cab, but nope, no scofflaws hung up in the driveshaft.
At Itsuko's party, our slightly miffed birthday girl decides they shouldn't wait any longer for Tamio. After she blows out the candles, she cuts into her exquisitely spun-sugar-frosted cake with a razor-sharp knife. She accidentally slices her thumb, and splatters the celebratory confection with her blood.
At least they still have the ice cream.
Outside, that mystery woman scoots across the driveway just ahead of Tamio's taxi as it pulls in to the Matsumura mansion. But when Tamio looks around for her, she's disappeared yet again.
Back at the party, Itsuko's father, Shigekatsu, and Wada the butler are worried. This aged retainer recalls her mother cut her finger in exactly the same way, just before she disappeared. "Yes... a question of blood, perhaps," Mr. Matsumura replies, enigmatically. Is he hinting klutziness runs in the family?
Tamio arrives, with profuse apologies for being late to the party. While he explains about that careless phantom pedestrian, the lights suddenly go out.
Cut to the mystery lady, or rather, her legs, as she stealthily crosses the patio, traverses a dark, deserted hallway and ascends a flight of stairs. In the kitchen, the cook and the maid grouse about the blackout making their jobs even harder, only to be astonished when someone rings from the second-floor bedroom, the one that's been closed up for years!
While the youngsters have a sing-along, Wada and Mr. Matsumura investigate this strange development. They're justifiably amazed when Dad recognizes the new occupant of the long-disused bedroom: It's his wife Miwako, Itsuko's mother, who disappeared twenty years ago.
Maybe they should have checked the closet again, or looked under the bed... Yet, amazingly, she doesn't appear to have aged a day!
Miwako is barely conscious, unable to answer when Shigekatsu implores her to tell him what happened, and where she's been all this time. He mutters something about a family curse.
The next day, his wife is still semi-comatose. The doctor assures Shigekatsu she seems perfectly healthy -- but confirms that physically she can't be a day over twenty. Itsuko, worried that her mother will be treated like a freak, makes her fiance promise not to publish the story.
Tamio suggests they forget their troubles by taking in an art exhibition. As it turns out, there's more exhibited here than they might have expected: Itsuko is certain that prize-winning piece (by which I mean, "portrait of a reclining nude") is her mother. After looking more closely, Tamio agrees it's definitely her -- face.
A whisper-thin guy wearing a black dinner jacket, black fedora and white scarf, and large and very dark sunglasses, stands close behind them. OMG: It's the "Chairman of the Board"!
Tamio wanders off to find out more from the gallery. That swankily attired stranger strikes up a conversation with Itsuko, querying her about her evident fascination with the painting. He seems intrigued when Itsuko answers it reminds her of her mother.
Rather than trying to ferret out more details about Itsuko's unconventional upbringing, the man in black abruptly exits the exhibition, his faithful dwarf close on his heels. Tamio returns from having been told at the information desk that the gallery hasn't the slightest idea who the artist and his model are. There's only the name signed on the portrait: "Shiro Sofue".
After Tamio drops Itsuko off back at the Matsumura mansion, the man in black and his pint-size posse show up outside the gate and take a quick gander at the residence. Next we see the dwarf sneaking through the darkened gallery after hours. He stops in front of that prize-winning nude and gazes up at it. It may be a good thing this scene doesn't go any further...
Cut to the mysterious man in black's hotel suite. A maid tops off his glass, with red wine, natch. Although it's nighttime, he still insists on wearing those shades. Once the maid exits, his diminutive assistant enters the scene through the dwarf entrance the management had installed.
Which was quite thoughtful of them, really. Except that due to a mix-up with the contractor it's six feet up on the wall. When the little guy jumps down and hits that bare floor, he takes the impact on his arms as well as his legs. It takes a moment for the actor to recover. (It's not like he needed those rotator cuffs for anything important.) Let's hope they got this scene in one take.
Pausing for a few seconds to swing his arms back and forth and take a few deep breaths, the henchman reports everything went as planned. The mystery man is pleased. He removes the cheaters, but for anyone who might have been anticipating some ocular weirdness a la The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, his are disappointingly normal.
The dwarf suddenly panics: "The windows are open!"
This is the cue for the boss to begin having some kind of fit, possibly inspired by the full moon that's shining through the window. His henchman frantically wrestles with the heavy drapes, while the man in black puts his hands over his face, hurls himself on the bed, thrashes around and moans.
The maid, who's just outside in the hallway, hears the commotion and rushes back into the room. The man in black is sitting up now, seemingly calmer, but his hands are still covering his face. She thinks it's a bit stuffy, so she helpfully pulls the curtains open again.
Extremely bad move: The boss puts a whole new spin on "fresh air fiend" as he transforms into a classic Euro-style vampire with pale, sunken features, Count Orlok eyebrows and a pearly pair of fangs.
"How do you like me now?"
His convenience-size Renfield locks himself in the bathroom, while the bloodsucker chases down this hapless do-gooder and sinks his teeth in her neck. He dumps her corpse on the couch in the hallway.
Tamio is dispatched to report on the murder. After the investigating detective does the obligatory "baffled by the marks on her neck" routine, the journalist spies the man in black, sans shades, standing in the doorway to his digs -- which can't be much more than twenty feet from where the maid's lifeless body lies sprawled on that couch, blood dribbling from the holes in her neck. Tamio works his way through the crowd to interview him. The vampire slams the door in Tamio's face.
Returning to the newsroom, Tamio learns there's been an art heist: That prize-winning nude has been stolen!
And where should it turn up next morning, but inside the front gate of the Matsumura residence, wrapped in brown paper, with a slip signed simply "Shiro Sofue" attached. Itsuko claims she hasn't the slightest idea who that is.
Which seems strange, considering the employee at the gallery said it was a signed portrait, and she did spend a fair amount of time studying it. Maybe the artist's signature was really tiny, or perhaps her attention was focused elsewhere. Then again, it could be there's a good reason why Itsuko is rarely entrusted with sharp objects.
But you do have to hand it to the little guy: It appears he managed to horse that oversize portrait in its heavy frame -- which anyone who wasn't at least six-and-a-half feet tall and built like a tank would likely have found somewhat unwieldy -- out of the gallery, wrap it carefully, and deposit it on the Matsumura doorstep, all without being seen. This Renfield may come in a small package, but he's undeniably worth every last morsel of his spider goulash.
Tamio arrives in time for the unwrapping. He's amazed to see the stolen painting, and immediately clues the others in about its theft last night.
"It's an interesting approach..."
Is it just me, or is there something slightly peculiar about Itsuko et al's nonchalant attitude toward this canvas? Shigekatsu in particular seems remarkably unaffected by this clue to what his missing wife was up to these past twenty years. As for Tamio, well, I'm fairly broadminded when it comes to nekkid pictures -- er, celebrations of the human form, but a large, realistic nude of my fiance's hot mom (or for that matter, my mother, or my wife) displayed in the front room?
Prize-winning composition or no, I believe that might fall just a bit outside my comfort zone. But who knows, maybe Tamio met Itsuko and her dad at a naturists' outing.
And that doesn't even begin to address the twist-of-the-knife implicit in having this... revealing portrait delivered, out of the blue, to the model's family in a manner which leaves no doubt it's a gift from the secretive artist. If you ask me, though, it seems he's gone about it in a needlessly complicated manner. Although I suppose sending it by parcel post probably wouldn't have had quite the same sinister cachet.
Nighttime: A full moon rides above ragged clouds. Medium close up of Miwako's portrait, where it remains propped up in the shadowed parlor. It seems like that nude gets almost as much screen time as some of the principal players.
Not that I'm complaining.
Miwako sits up in bed. As if in a trance, she tosses the covers back, rises and heads downstairs to the parlor.
"Sure, I've got a bod that won't stop... but am I art?"
She stares at her portrait for a moment, suddenly cries out, "I'm scared!" then, after a few seconds, "Forgive me!" and collapses. Shigekatsu comes running, followed quickly by Itsuko, her fiance and the help. Miwako's only out for a few moments. Her husband is overjoyed when she opens her eyes and finally recognizes him.
While Shigekatsu re-introduces his wife to their daughter, Tamio continues to intently scrutinize that cryptic painting. Jeez, buddy, can't you afford a magazine or something?
Shigekatsu decides this is the perfect time for the youngsters to hear about some family history.
Itsuko's father begins by asking if they've ever heard of Shiro Amakusa. Tamio immediately recognizes the name: Back in the 17th Century, he was the leader of the Shimabara Uprising, when Iemitsu Tokugawa outlawed Christianity. Although Shiro and his followers were all killed, the Matsumura family are his descendants. His blood flows in Miwako's veins. (Shigekatsu took his wife's clan name when they married.)
In a flashback to twenty years previous, the young couple decide to visit her family shrine on a holiday. After paying their respects, Shigekatsu relaxes with a little angling in the nearby lake, while Miwako sets out their picnic beside a small campfire. But then, from one moment to the next, she simply disappears. Though he searched far and wide for her, that was the last her family saw of Miwako until she turned up a couple of days ago.
Now the flashback follows Miwako: Seized by some irresistible compulsion, she takes a stroll. On a promontory overlooking the water, she meets the man in black. He's busy painting a landscape, out in the broad daylight. As we saw earlier at the gallery, this is one weakness our ky˚ketsuki doesn't share with his Western counterpart. Quite the contrary, in fact.
He tells Miwako he's been waiting for her, and hands her a pale rose, claiming its scent drew her to him. (Romantic cuss, ain't he?) One close-up sniff of the flower's fragrance is enough to put Miwako down for the count. I'm beginning to wonder if the family curse is actually narcolepsy.
Now she's dressed in a filmy negligee, and lying on a divan, in some strange place surrounded by impenetrable darkness. The man in black wakes Miwako by vehemently prodding her in the solar plexus with a floor candelabra.
"Wakey wakey eggs and bakey!"
They're not alone: There's also a withered crone in a plain grey kimono, plus our old friend Mini-Renfield (who's borrowed an extra-shaggy sherpa vest from Sonny Bono for the occasion) and, making a special guest appearance, Japanese Mr. Clean.
The man in black offers her eternal, unfailing youth, if she accepts his love. In a flashback-within-a-flashback, we see the vampire's origin story: He was a samurai named Takenaka, who loved Princess Katsu, the daughter of Shiro Amakusa -- remember him? -- even more than his Christian faith. When the Shogun's armies came for them he helped her commit seppuku while the full moon was rising. Then, because he was so smitten with the princess, he drank her blood.
Nothing so odd about that, right?
Be that as it may, this doomed him to live forever, seeking the blood of maidens, the blood of his Princess. (Well, sheesh, you make one mistake...) Unsurprisingly, Miwako is a dead ringer for Princess Katsu.
In the next scene, Miwako's posing for that prize-winning portrait.
"Now, hold that pose -- for the next twenty years."
Vampire Takenaka flings his brush and pallet away. He complains he can't paint her, because of the hatred for him in her eyes. (What did you expect, gratitude? It's not like you gave her much say in the matter.) The nutty nosferatu shows Miwako his gallery of two-piece bathing suit-clad former lovers; he promises if she tries to betray him, she'll end up a statue like the rest of them, with a golden cross pendant hung round her neck.
Miwako resumes the narration: After years of waiting for her chance, she managed to escape and somehow found her way back home. It was the moonlight that woke her just now. Miwako confides she finds it comforting, because her captor hated the stuff.
Okay, that's all good and well, but I distinctly remember Mr. Matsumura saying something about a curse. Is it that the women in Miwako's family keep getting hit on by a screwball vampire with artistic pretensions? If anybody seems like they're genuinely under a curse here, it's Takenaka.
Shigekatsu reports the stolen painting to the police; Takenaka has also been summoned to the station. He's antsy and keeps checking his watch, clearly impatient to get the interrogation over with. The detective from Homicide leads off by observing the maid's corpse was found right outside his door. When he asks Takenaka the obvious question about his whereabouts at the time of the murder, the camera pans to the clock on the wall -- it's almost a quarter 'til six.
Whatever alibi he concocted must have satisfied the police, because it's night again and Takenaka is cruising the brightly-lit streets of Tokyo's famous Ginza district. The ky˚ketsuki notices the full moon trying to peep out from behind the thick overcast, and becomes increasingly nervous. He pulls over suddenly. Clutching his portfolio, he exits the car and hastily ducks into a nearby restaurant, the Angel Cafe.
Takenaka seats himself at a table, where luckily the pebble-glass windows hide the sight of the moon. Outside, in yet another remarkable coincidence, Tamio happens to be right on the spot when Mini-Renfield pops out of the car's trunk -- and just exactly where else would you expect the Master to keep his dwarf? -- and scuttles down the sidewalk. This naturally sets the journalist's investigative juices flowing. He follows Takenaka's henchman into the restaurant.
Takenaka sits hunched over his table, laboring to retain his cool. His diminutive assistant clambers up on the bar and begins kicking and hurling glassware and bottles of booze everywhere. The best I can figure is either the little guy thinks he's auditioning for Coyote Ugly, or he's trying to distract everyone from Takenaka's obvious distress. Whichever it is, he blows it big time when he gets a little too carried away and pitches an ashtray through one of those pebble-glass windows, giving the boss an unobstructed eyeful of the lunar orb.
Takenaka goes berserk. One thing you can say about this kooky ky˚ketsuki: Despite being well past his 300th birthday, he's totally plugged into that modern, on-the-go, supercharged and highly efficient Japanese lifestyle. During the ensuing rampage, he merely has to fasten his fangs onto each victim's neck for a couple of seconds to kill her.
This vampire must really suck.
Another puzzling aspect of this sequence is that in addition to journalist Tamio, there are at least five other men, who all appear fairly stout of arm and in good fettle, in the adjoining bar along with their dates. Yet Takenaka thoroughly intimidates these wimps simply by throwing a chair at them. Then he sinks his teeth into the hostess, and, shortly thereafter, a panicked woman who tries to bolt from the bar.
All through this, Tamio and the others merely stand there and gawp. It's not like Takenaka appears to have supernatural strength, though of course he could still give you a nasty bite, or some painful scratches with those pointy fingernails. Even so, no one makes the slightest move to stop him. Like, say, whacking him with another chair.
After dropping his second victim, Takenaka stumbles out of the cafe. Tamio retrieves the artist's portfolio and follows at a discreet distance. But at the entrance to the establishment Mini-Renfield body-checks the journalist, then takes off in the other direction. Tamio wisely decides to pursue the dwarf, instead.
In quick succession Takenaka attacks two more women, in plain view of a bunch of pedestrians, then totters back to his car and drives off.
The vampire's murderous romp in the Ginza district naturally makes the headlines. For some reason the newspapers inflate his kill total to six, not four. Could be he stopped off for a couple of quick ones after the first massacre.
At the Matsumura spread, Itsuko, Mom and Dad are back in the parlor with the painting. They do seem to spend a lot of time there. Miwako is terrified when she realizes someone has stuck a small gold crucifix to the forehead of her nude. She's convinced it's a sign from "the master of the cave" that he's coming for her.
Shigekatsu assures Miwako the police are supposed to come by soon to pick up the painting. While Mr. Matsumura helps his distraught wife return to her bedroom, Itsuko answers the doorbell -- but no one's there.
She then unwittingly (or half-wittingly) assists the vampire with this obvious diversion by asking her father if she can speak with him alone, even though Miwako begs him not to leave her side. Shigekatsu promises her he'll be right back.
While they're outside the bedroom, Takenaka emerges from the shadows and reproaches Miwako for running away. He pleads with her to come back to their cozy cave with him. She refuses.
Downstairs, Shigekatsu orders the servants to search the house, but first he wants the painting put somewhere out of sight. Awww... and it was such a great conversation piece.
Takenaka puts Miwako under a spell, or kills her, it's not very clear. When Shigekatsu returns to check on Miwako, he's confronted by the vampire, who chokes him and tosses him onto the landing, then slams the door to the bedroom shut. Gathering Miwako in his arms, Takenaka quite pointlessly kicks out the glass on the double doors leading out onto the balcony, and absconds with luckless Mr. Matsumura's wife.
Later, Shigekatsu lingers disconsolately in Miwako's now-vacant bedroom. You do have to feel sorry for the guy.
Just as the police are carting the painting out the front door, Tamio belatedly makes the connection between the artist's signature on the portrait and that signed charcoal sketch of a nude in the portfolio Takenaka conveniently left behind while running amok. Which Tamio has held on to, instead of turning over to the police, even though as a reporter he should know they'd consider it vital evidence.
I'm sure he just wanted to study the artist's work more closely.
Tamio and Itsuko decide to investigate the ky˚ketsuki's hotel suite. Which implies Tamio must have recognized him at the Angel Cafe as the guy he saw at the first murder scene. Yet again, he didn't bother to mention this to the authorities? And come to think of it, how did that dwarf manage to outrun him?
No one answers the door. The desk clerk informs the two they just missed him: Takenaka checked out earlier that morning. Tamio and Itsuko realize he must have gone to ground at his hideout in Shimabara. They resolve to hunt him there.
Meanwhile, Takenaka breezes right through a roadblock, in the same car in which multiple witnesses must have seen him fleeing his Ginza sucking spree. A bit of trick photography with a double exposure reveals that Mini-Renfield and unconscious-or-dead Miwako are in the trunk, which of course the police neglect to search.
"I'm the luckiest little guy in the world!"
You know, given the level of police work we've seen so far, there may be some justification for Tamio's do-it-yourself attitude toward tracking this monster down. Anyway, Godzilla only knows what the little guy's going to be getting up to in there. For Miwako's sake, I hope it's a short trip.
Incidentally, this scene takes place at night. When a mere glimpse of the moon is supposed to turn Takenaka into a ferocious, out-of-control vampire. Yet here he is taking a road trip, appearing perfectly cool and collected. Sure, why not? Maybe there's a thick overcast.
A lucky tip from some fellow reporters in Shimabara puts our vampire hunters on the right trail: A thief who hid his loot up in the mountains was recently nabbed by the police. The guy claims that after he buried his haul, he was frightened away from a "castle" by a bald-headed giant and a tiny fellow. Changing his mind now about going it alone, Tamio somehow persuades the authorities there's something to the criminal's story.
A search party is organized, with the thief leading the way up into the snow-clad mountains. After a while, Tamio notices Itsuko is lagging behind. (This delicate flower of Japanese womanhood is of course unable to climb that slope as quickly as the menfolk.) He backtracks to give his fiance a hand; the rest of the party disappears over a rise.
It's obvious what's going to happen next, right? Well, yes and no. Sure, I expected an attack by Takenaka's henchmen, but I didn't think Mini-Renfield (who's grown quite attached to that sherpa vest) and Japanese Mr. Clean would employ 17th Century style matchlocks. Their boss couldn't have sprung for some slightly more up-to-date weaponry? I bet he ends up regretting this penny-pinching.
The giant and the little guy take their ineffective potshots at Tamio, then beat feet into a boulder field. Tamio predictably swallows the bait and pursues them, leaving Itsuko all by her lonesome. As soon as he's out of sight, the caped ky˚ketsuki suddenly appears behind her.
Tamio hears Itsuko's cries for help; when he returns to the spot where he'd abandoned her to go chasing after the vampire's henchmen, all he finds is a shoe. Tamio searches the mountainside for her. Eventually, with no apparent indication as to why he chose to check out this particular rocky knob, he finds the hidden entrance to Takenaka's "castle" -- which looks more like a cave to me, even down to the traditional rubber bats fluttering on strings.
As Tamio penetrates deeper into the mountain, the passage winds through bizarre, cubistic rock formations. This in turn leads to a stairway, then a massive, ancient double door. A skeleton held together by a few leathery scraps of flesh dangles beside it, chained to the wall. The vampire must have concluded a "No Soliciting" notice wasn't enough, after that time the Hare Krishnas found their way in.
Tamio opens the doors and enters a vast and misty chamber. So it looks like Takenaka really does have a castle, of the rare subterranean variety.
Meanwhile, in another well-lit and airy underground room, the vampire has Itsuko all to himself. Though frightened, she still summons up the gumption to demand Takenaka give her mother back.
He replies, "I'll give you what I gave her." (Naughty, naughty boy!)
Takenaka continues: "Wouldn't you like to live, eternally young, forever?" But you can see that, just like with her mom, he's not offering her a choice.
"Look at me," the vampire commands Itsuko. "I have lived for centuries, and now I will baptize you, so you may do the same."
"Baptize"? I believe that's the first time I've heard it called that. (I'll leave any Chuck Berry quips to the rest of you sickos.) Then again, he wouldn't be the first guy to try nailing both the MILF and her daughter.
But before the vampire can do whatever it is he's planning to do to innocent Itsuko, his elderly henchwoman provides a timely interruption. She warns Takenaka the mother and daughter will betray him in the end. Plus, the Christian God of the Amakusa clan will be mightily cheesed.
Presumably the murders of who knows how many women, over a period of hundreds of years, rises only to the level of a minor peccadillo.
"Enough! I want the blood of this girl," he declares. "She has Amakusa blood." (It's extra tasty and packed with goodness!)
Takenaka then rewards the poor lady's well-meant advice by smacking her in the chops with the butt of his whip. He turns back toward Itsuko, but his hellish plans are again thwarted when Mini-Renfield runs into the room. He tugs at the Master's cape and frantically points back at the door.
The crone tries once more to dissuade Takenaka, predicting that the castle will fall if he incurs the wrath of God. Rather than heeding her warning, or paying attention to the dwarf's attempts to communicate something important, he takes the whip to her again.
Giving Tamio his chance to burst into the chamber. While he roughhouses with the vampire, he yells for Itsuko to make a break for it. After indulging in a little dwarf-wrestling, she decides to follow his advice. But she doesn't get far before she runs into Mr. Clean, who's hanging out by what appears to be the castle's in-ground hot tub. Then Mini-Renfield blocks her way, as well.
Tamio shows up, and grapples with the bald "giant". Itsuko takes to her heels, with the dwarf in hot pursuit. In no time at all the pro wrestler who's been tapped for the role of Japanese Mr. Clean has the journalist hoisted up over his head, in a perfect setup for an atomic drop or a backbreaker. Then he puts him down, quite gently, in fact. And after that the big numbnut just stands there, wide open, seemingly waiting for Tamio's flying kick to propel him backwards into the hot spring.
And as any homemaker will tell you, Mr. Clean readily dissolves in warm water. The guy never had a chance.
"Ohhhh... what a world! What a world!"
Note that while all this was going on, Takenaka simply watches from the sidelines. Yeah, but now he decides to go after Tamio with his whip.
The thief finally locates the entrance to Takenaka's hideout, while our unlucky-in-love bloodsucker and Tamio continue to tussle. The vampire swaps his whip for an epee and, cape billowing behind him, chases Tamio through the castle's corridors.
In another part of the castle, Itsuko flees from Mini-Renfield. Fer cryin' out loud... Look, lady, you've got at least a couple of feet in height and forty or fifty pounds on your opponent! I bet she's mugged by kindergartners on a near-daily basis.
While the fuzz and their guide continue to negotiate that passageway, after quite a bit of running and frantic dodging in which time after time Tamio narrowly avoids being skewered, he gets a lucky break and disarms the vampire. Tamio takes up the foil, Takenaka lays hold of that floor candelabra and the shoddily choreographed fight resumes.
The police arrive in the main hall of the castle just in time to see the two dueling along the upper gallery; they rush to help Tamio.
The thief takes advantage of this distraction to slip away from his captors. He makes it back outside, but then his greed gets the better of him. He turns around and heads back into the cave to retrieve his loot.
He locates the hiding place without a hitch. But, as he's digging his ill-gotten gains out from beneath a pile of rubble, the floor of the cave gives way, dropping criminal and cash into the main hall, where Takenaka has been giving the police a rough time.
This nasty little trick of fate not only kills the greedy thief, but also leaves a gaping hole in the ceiling, through which the full moon, high in a clear midnight sky, bathes the vampire in its brilliant light.
Now wait a second: It still broad daylight both when the cops entered that cave, as well as when the robber made his way out of there, before making his fatal decision and returning for his stash. They weren't even trying for a day-for-night effect.
But sure, why not? By this point, I should know better than to expect anything about this film to make any sense whatsoever.
The moonlight does its number on Takenaka, but this time the transformation goes much further: Takenaka's hitherto immaculate coif puffs out wildly and turns bleached white, while his nose has lengthened and sharpened, and his skin has acquired the texture of oatmeal that's been allowed to sit much too long. The reverb kicks in, as he cackles maniacally.
"You should see me before I've had a chance to do my face!"
Slipping past the cops, Takenaka makes for an alcove. Where it turns out the vampire has put his lover on a pedestal. Literally. Just as we knew she would, doomed Miwako has ended up just another specimen in his collection, with a golden crucifix hanging from her neck. He pauses for one last short soliloquy with his ghoulish trophy.
"It's time," he tells her, "for the cursed Amakusa blood to meet its end. Watch now, as immortality makes its last stand!"
Despite the build up, as Gotterdammerungs go this one's strictly a dud. While the cops hang back, clearly reluctant to tangle with Icky-Takenaka, he simply takes a dip in the hot spring and that's the end of him, too.
Itsuko, still pursued by Mini-Renfield, ends up in the castle's armory; the crone has laid a trail of gunpowder there and set it alight. The dwarf runs to his elderly co-worker for a hug. Itsuko manages to rejoin her lover and the police as the armory blows up, putting an end to the ky˚ketsuki's remaining henchpersons. Who, let's be honest, were a remarkably ineffective bunch.
Everyone scampers for the exit, keeping a few steps ahead of a series of explosions that collapse the underground castle behind them.
Tamio and Itsuko emerge into the welcoming daylight. Nights sure do pass quickly around here. Especially when you're having so much fun.
Itsuko reminds Tamio her mother's still inside. Tamio deftly avoids having to hire a bulldozer and an excavation crew to sift through thousands of tons of debris, when he insists she'll probably be happier there, in the ground of her ancestors.
Anyway, he believes that just like the movie, the curse -- whatever the heck that was -- is at an end.
So what lessons can we take from Takenaka's tragic story?
First, while vampirism is apparently no big deal with the Hairy Sky Thunderer, do not, under any circumstances, perv on a mom and her daughter, or you can expect swift and terrible retribution. Yep, that sounds about right.
Plus, you should take particular care when selecting your minions. Other than Mini-Renfield's handy compact form factor and undeniable skill at surreptitious package delivery, this bunch was seriously lacking in those qualities that make for effective evil.
And, cultural differences aside, I think we can all understand that drinking your inanimate inamorata's blood is probably not the best way to begin your grieving process.