Artist Nagare (Ryo Tamura) lives with the guilt of his fomer lover Mizue’s (Yoko Yamamoto) death after he backed out of a suicide pact. Five years after the ill-fated attempt at joint self-destruction, Nagare is invited back to the house by the swamp in which Mizue drowned by Mizue’s former husband, Takigawa. Nagare is surprised to see Takigawa’s new wife, Ameko, looks identically to the dead woman (Ameko is also played by Yamamoto), while Mizue’s ghost begins appearing to him, calling him back to the site of their attempted suicide.
Based on a novel by Izumi Kyoka, “Blue Lake Woman” is a melodramatic ghost story complete with over-the-top performances and a script packed with unbelievable twists. The final third of the film takes several wild turns, becoming almost laughable as one bizarre coincidence and shocking revelation after another are thrown into the mix. Shigeaki Saegusa’s score fully embraces this high-camp atmosphere with theatrical orchestration knocking the viewer over the head with the eerie mystery chimes. It should be mentioned that this is a made-for-television drama and the low-budget is in evidence in everything from stage sets to the small cast and schlocky effects such as the handheld camera swirling around a medium attempting to contact Mizue’s ghost. Director Jissoji, most famous for his more art-house Buddhist Trilogy, does his best to overcome these budget constraints with creativity in lighting and use of close-ups, and a few moments of beautiful cinematography from Masao Nakabori throughout. They never quite elevate the film above the pot-boiler source material, but there are a few interesting elements included such as the background ticking of clocks and the array of time-pieces that make regular appearances, lending weight to the themes of time and mortality.
“Blue Lake Woman” is a traditional ghost story playing on ideas of guilt and revenge. The constant ticking of clocks, shown also in the film, is an excellent representation of how Nagare is haunted by his continued existence. He feels deeply the guilt that he survived while he left his lover to drown in the swamp. The film is not without it’s charm if you can get beyond some of the sillier elements; and occasionally surpasses the limitations of a television movie in attempting to tell a more intelligent story than the surface narrative suggests. Perhaps the film’s worst sin is in neglecting some of these more unique thematic elements, abandoning them completely in its finale in favour of wrapping everything up in a rather trite ending that undermines some of the tension that preceded it.