Release List Reviews Price Search Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise
DVD Talk
Reviews & Columns
Reviews
DVD
TV on DVD
Blu-ray
International DVDs
Theatrical
Adult
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Features
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
Interviews
DVD Talk TV
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Columns
Anime Talk
XCritic.com
DVD Savant
HD Talk
Horror DVDs
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

Resources
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info
Links

Columns



DVD SAVANT
Savant PAL Region 2 Guest Reviews:

Legacy of Dracula
&
Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis

Separate releases reviewed by Lee Broughton

Artsmagic's Shadow Warrior label completes what has been dubbed The Bloodthirsty Trilogy by releasing Legacy of Dracula (AKA The Vampire Doll), the first of three Japanese vampire films that Michio Yamamoto shot for Toho Studios. It's a rather neat test-run of some of the ideas and themes that would be developed further in his later Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula entries. Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is another Toho Studios production: it's a highly original mystical epic which takes place in an alternate Japan during the early years of the 20th Century.


Legacy of Dracula
Shadow Warrior
1970 /colour / 2:35 flat letterbox / 71 min. / Yureiyashiki no Kyofu: Chi O Suu Ningyo
Starring Yukiko Kobayashi, Yoko Minazake, Kayo Matsuo, Akira Nakao, Atsuo Nakamura, Jun Yusami, Kaku Takashina
Cinematography Kazutami Hara
Art Director Yoshifumi Honda
Original Music Riichiro Manabe
Written by Ei Ogawa and Hiroshi Nagano
Produced by Fumio Tanaka and Tomoyuki Tanaka
Directed by Michio Yamamoto

Synopsis:

Returning to Japan from a lengthy trip abroad, Kazuhiko Sagawa (Atsuo Nakamura) travels to the remote family home of his girlfriend, Yuko Nonomura (Yukiko Kobayashi), only to be told that she recently passed away. Forced to stay the night, Kazuhiko awakens to see Yuko outside his window and he subsequently disappears after chasing and confronting her. Yuko's mother (Yoko Minazake) tells Kazuhiko's concerned sister Keiko (Kayo Matsuo), and her boyfriend Hiroshi Takagi (Akira Nakao), that Kazuhiko was perfectly okay when he left her home after spending just one night there. But when the duo find one of Kazuhiko's blood-stained cuff-links near Yuko's grave they decide to stick around and investigate.

Legacy of Dracula contains most of the ingredients that made Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula such effective genre entries: the isolated location, the mix of suspenseful scenes and jolt-inducing 'boo!' moments, odd moments of unpleasantness, the spooky atmosphere, etc. The Nonomura family mansion is a typically creepy abode and good use is made of its claustrophobic corridors, dusty spare rooms and dark cellars. Nicely presented and decorated, its gothic style is put down to Mrs Nonomura's father-in-law once being a diplomat. Throw the raging thunder and lightning storm which welcomes Kazuhiko to the locality and Mrs Nonomura's aggressive hulk of a manservant, Genzo (Kaku Takashina), into the mix and the scene is set for an intense, mystery-driven drama.

This film isn't quite as campy as the later two, chiefly because it features very little incidental talk about vampires and virtually no vampiric activity as such: Yuko is actually presented (on screen, at least) more as a wandering, unsettled ghost than as a predatory vampire. After dark her melancholic wails can be heard floating through the house but Mrs Nonomura calmly dismisses the noise as being the sound of the wind blowing through a skylight. Parts of the film play more like a taut psychological thriller, with Keiko and Hiroshi foolishly faking car trouble in order to get to spend the night at the Nonomura place and take a snoop around. Their subsequent questioning of locals at the nearest town, and a trawl through the Town Hall's files, uncovers a mystery which has its roots in a tragedy that occurred at the Nonomura mansion over twenty years earlier: the disturbing nature of this back-story goes some way to explaining why Genzo is so aggressive. When Keiko and Hiroshi split up in order to continue their search, the film successfully veers into 'localised conspiracy theory' territory for a spell before wrapping up with a quite surprising resolution.

There's not really much more to say about this title. Anybody who rates Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula should find something of interest here, despite the obvious absence of Mori Kishida's iconic vampire character. The acting is generally solid, and Yoko Minazake is really excellent as the less than truthful Mrs Nonomura. The camera work is just a little bit static in a couple of places when compared to that of Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula but the cinematography remains quite pleasing overall: Yamamoto manages to utilise some great camera placement and framing and he consistently offers up noticeably good picture compositions. Riichiro Manabe's music here is perhaps his most consistent work of the entire trilogy if only because he keeps things relatively simple and largely resists the urge to serve up any incongruous 'loungey' pieces: much of the music is built around a quite spookily effective harpsichord arrangement.

The picture quality of this DVD is pretty much the same as that of the DVD issues of Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula. While there is little in the way of print damage or speckling the picture is soft and there are a couple of night-time sequences that play very dark indeed. Presented in Japanese with removable English subtitles, the sound quality is very good. The original promotional materials in the extra features section are the same ones which appear on the Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula discs.


Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
Shadow Warrior
1988 / Colour / 1.77:1 flat letterbox / 135m. / Teito Monogatari
Starring Mikijiro Hira, Shintaro Katsu, Kyusaku Shimada, Haruka Sugata, Koji Takahashi, Katsuo Nakamura, Jun'ichi Ishada, Shiro Sano, Meiko Harada, Sanshi Katsura
Cinematography Masao Nakahori
Production Designer H R Geiger
Art Director Takeo Kimura
Editor Keiichi Uraoka
Original Music Maki Ishii
Written by Kaizo Hayashi based on the novel by Hiroshi Aramat
Produced by Kouji Tsutsumi, Seikichi Iizumi
Directed by Akio Jissoji

Synopsis:

Back-story: Around 1000 AD, Masakado Taira's dream of building an independent nation in the centre of Japan failed. He died full of malice, branded a traitor. Subsequently worshipped through the ages as a kind of guardian of Tokyo, any attempts to move Masakado's grave have resulted in terrible consequences.

1912: Masakado's grave is situated within the Ministry of Finance and the Chief Financier, Eiichi Shibusawa (Shintaro Katsu), is readying plans to implement his secret Tokyo Improvement Project. The mystic Yasumasa Hirai (Mikijiro Hira) reveals that Tokyo is haunted by spirits which channel themselves through underground psychic energy streams and he convinces Shibusawa to allow his Tsuchimikado clan to join the Project as psychic advisors. A renegade mystic called Yasunori Kato (Kyusaku Shimada) subsequently launches an intense psychic assault on the Ministry and it becomes clear that he intends to destroy Tokyo by disturbing and enraging Masakado's spirit. A motley team of mystics, psychics, warriors, civil servants and scientists find that their destinies become intertwined in an epic struggle to thwart Kato's plans.

Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis is a film of really epic proportions and it follows the story arcs of a multitude of sometimes (seemingly) unrelated characters over a fifteen year time period. On first viewing, the initial thirty minutes or so are just a little confusing if only because so many of these characters (and clan names, mystical rites and processes, locations, legends, etc) are introduced to us while we're still trying to work out who is who and whose side we want to be on: the Chief Financier and his team appear initially to be a shady bunch who have links with the military; the 'good' mystics are followers of Masakado, who is painted as a dangerous and vengeful spirit; the 'bad' mystic, Kato, wants to destroy Tokyo simply because he feels that the city and its foolish inhabitants have polluted consecrated ground. As the years go by, and the various characters are given further development and begin to interact, everything becomes clearer and the film is eventually set up for a real humdinger of a final showdown.

Another stumbling block, again only initially, is the film's design. As with films like, say, Luc Besson's The Fifth Element or any number of Terry Gilliam films, it is obvious from the start that the design personnel at work here have made a concerted effort to come up with something completely new: consequently it can take a while for the viewer to become suitably attuned to these bold but unfamiliar aesthetics. The actual period costumes, sets and locations are suitably lavish, impressive and authentic looking but anything of a mystical nature is found to be pushing for something different. The villainous Kato is given the air and look of a cruel military officer from some unspecified totalitarian regime while his assistant priestess appears to source her clothing from the same fetish-wear suppliers used by Jean Rollin's vampire priestesses, etc. European artist H R Geiger worked on some of this film's production designs: the most familiar aspects of his unique style, which inspired the look of Ridley Scott's Alien, are largely absent but they do surface towards the end when Kato employs a kind of baroque version of the deadly flying sphere from Don Coscarelli's Phantasm.

The presentation of the mystic and the modern works pretty well in this alternate version of early 20th Century Japan. In Terry Gilliam's Brazil we had the strange, anachronistic mix of 1940s British civil service-dom and weird future technology. In Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis we have the spectacular but anachronistic mix of 1910s Japanese civil service-dom and ancient magic. But it seems almost natural to enter the Ministry of Finance and find a suitably decorated hall containing members of the Tsuchimikado clan earnestly chanting and performing the rites that they hope will prevent Kato from disturbing Masakado's slumber.

But, perhaps most importantly, the film has some great characters that we really come to care about and take an interest in as they weave in and out of each others lives. (Mild spoilers begin....) Yukari Tatsumiya (Haruka Sugata), a descendant of Masakado who is psychically impregnated by Kato. Her brother, Yoichiro (Jun'ichi Ishida), who cannot bring himself to join the fighting directly but who tries to help by placing protective statues at key sites around the city. His friend and fellow civil servant, Junichi Narutaki (Shiro Sano), who secretly loves Yukari but who is separated from her following Kato's intervention. Doctor Ogai Mori (Katsuo Nakamura) and the writer-cum-swordsman Rohan Koda (Koji Takahashi) two earnestly interested parties who are forced to accept and confront the supernatural. Keiko (Meiko Harada), a psychic warrior who marries Yoichiro in order to fulfil a mystical prophesy while secretly hoping that they might become a real couple if she should survive the final confrontation with Kato. Professor Torahiko Terada (Ken Teraizuma), who dreams of building an underground city: he has to settle on building Tokyo's underground railway system where he is forced to employ the services of Doctor Makoto Nishimura's (Ko Nishimura) prototype Robot, the mighty "Gakutensoku", when his construction workers are attacked by demons. Wajiro Kon (Seiko Ito), a young sociologist, and Shigemaru Kuroda (Sanshi Katsura), a likeable travelling expert in underground energy patterns who assists Keiko when Kato brings a malevolent six-armed statue to life (....mild spoilers end). Some of the key characters featured here appear to be based on actual people who lived during this period of Japanese history.

There's some good cinematography on display here with director Akio Jissoji proving himself to be capable of helming a really quite epic and highly original sci-fi/horror/adventure extravaganza. The film's fifteen year story arc is handled convincingly, aided by the use of some subtle but good ageing make-up and some great acting. Kato's periodic testing of the city's defences results in some of the city's defenders enduring years of anxiety and exasperation but some electrifying scenes unfold on Tokyo's city centre streets when he finally makes his master move. The special effects employed during the psychic confrontations are generally very good and the film boasts some really neat stop-motion animation sequences too. Maki Ishii's music is also particularly good, veering between strange one-note drones and emotionally charged orchestral pieces which are very much in the vein of Ennio Morricone's '80s work at times. There are some suitably re-worked pieces of established classical music employed in the mix, too.


While the picture quality of this DVD is reasonable it could be better. The colours are just a little washed out in places and, overall, the picture tends to be on the soft side. And flashes of light or bursts of special effects appear to result in some split-second pixelation of the picture in parts. Likewise the sound is okay but a little thin. The film is presented in Japanese with English subtitles: these subtitles appear to have been prepared at source by Toho Studios and are not removable.


Both discs are PAL Region 2, and are not intended for playback in the U.S.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Legacy of Dracula rates:
Movie: Very Good -
Video: Good --
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Portrait gallery, stills gallery and original promotional materials gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 30, 2003

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis rates:
Movie: Excellent -
Video: Fair + / Good --
Sound: Good -
Supplements: Akio Jissoji biography, actors' filmographies, portrait gallery and stills gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 30, 2003




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

Advertise With Us

Review Staff | About DVD Talk | Newsletter Subscribe | Join DVD Talk Forum
Copyright © DVDTalk.com All rights reserved | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Release List Reviews Price Search Shop SUBSCRIBE Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise