(Japan - 1970; US release 1971)
Directed by Michio Yamamoto. Written by Ei Ogawa and Hiroshi Nagano. Cast: Kayo Matsuo, Akira Nakao, Yukiko Kobayashi, Yoko Minamikaze, Kaku Takashina, Junya Usami, Atsuo Nakamura, Jun Hamamura. (Unrated, 71 mins)
Japan's Toho Co, Ltd. will forever be inextricably linked with GODZILLA and the entire kaiju universe that it spawned nearly 65 years ago. A close second would be the classic films of Akira Kurosawa, but prompted by the success of the Poe series being churned out by AIP and the Hammer frightfests of the day, Toho briefly dabbled in classic horror in the early 1970s. That type of classical "western" horror was unusual for Toho or any Japanese production company, as most instances of Japanese horror (1965's KWAIDAN being a good example) were based in Japanese and "eastern" myths, customs, and styles. The so-called "Bloodthirsty Trilogy" is a loose collection of mostly classically traditional vampire films produced by Toho from 1970 to 1974, all of them directed by Michio Yamamoto, a former assistant to Kurosawa (1957's THRONE OF BLOOD) who never really broke out and established himself beyond the "Bloodthirsty Trilogy." Born in 1933, Yamamoto was only 43 when he quit the movie industry and became a minor footnote in the grand Toho story, never heard from again before his death in 2004. Just out on Blu-ray in a three-film set from Arrow Video, the titles in the "Bloodthirsty Trilogy" are available in their intended versions for the first time in years (the second film in the series, LAKE OF DRACULA, had the most exposure on American TV back in the day and was released on VHS by Paramount in 1994), hopefully rescuing the forgotten Yamamoto from oblivion.
(Japan - 1971; US release 1973)
Directed by Michio Yamamoto. Written by Ei Ogawa and Masaru Takesue. Cast: Choei Takahashi, Sanae Emi, Midori Fujita, Shin Kishida, Kaku Takashina, Hideji Otaki, Michiyo Yamazoe, Fusako Tachibana. (Unrated, 82 mins)
Yamamoto and VAMPIRE DOLL co-writer Ei Ogawa were back the next year with LAKE OF DRACULA, a peculiarly uneven vampire outing that gets off to a terrific start but stumbles and bumbles when it starts trying to pretend it's not a vampire movie. On a seasonal leave from her studies, Akiko (Midori Fujita) is spending her break at a cabin in a lakeside village with her younger sister Natsuko (Sanae Emi). She's haunted by a childhood memory 18 years earlier when her dog Leo wandered into a strange house and she encountered what appeared to be a vampire. A strange cargo delivery dropped off for local handyman Kyusaku (Kaku Takashina) is revealed to contain the coffin of Dracula (Shin Kishida). Dracula immediately puts the bite on Renfield...er, I mean, Kyusaku, who proceeds to kill Leo (who's pretty spry and energetic for a dog who must be at least 18 years old by this point) and attack Akiko. She gets away, but as Natsuko falls under Dracula's spell, Akiko and her doctor boyfriend Saeki (Choei Takahashi) attempt to get to the bottom of the strange occurrences.
(Japan - 1974; US release 1975)
Directed by Michio Yamamoto. Written by Ei Ogawa and Masaru Takesue. Cast: Toshio Kurosawa, Kunie Tanaka, Katsuhiko Sasaki, Shin Kishida, Mariko Mochizuki, Mio Ota, Mika Katsuragi, Keiko Aramaki, Yunosuke Ito. (Unrated, 83 mins)
The final installment in the "Bloodthirsty Trilogy" rights the ship after the erratic and uneven LAKE OF DRACULA. Shin Kishida is back as, if not Dracula, then a very similar vampire, this time in the guise of a principal at an isolated girls school in northern Japan. Prof. Shiraki (Toshia Kurosawa), a young instructor from Tokyo, arrives for a new teaching post and is shocked to walk into an already grief-filled situation: the professor's wife died two days earlier and her body is being kept in coffin in the basement per "local custom," and one of the students has gone missing. It doesn't take long for Shiraki to find both of them when they attack him in his room after he's been drinking, which causes him to dismiss it as a bad dream. Then next morning, the principal tells Shiraki that he's ill and wants him to take over his job. He's apprehensive, especially after meeting superstitious colleague Dr. Shimomura (Kunie Tanaka), an expert in local folklore, who informs him of a well-known area legend involving a European shipwreck survivor from two centuries earlier who was forced to drink his own blood to survive. He met a local woman and they continued feasting on one another's blood, thus perpetrating a curse that has haunted the region since. Doing some further digging and finding evidence of a string of long-missing "principals" who ran the school (which is a front for the vampire to procure slavishly-devoted "brides"), Shiraki and Shimamura discover that the vampiric "spirit" lives on, assuming the shape its latest victim and requiring a new body when its host is about to die.