BR: Blind Woman’s Curse / Kaidan nobori ryû (1970)

June 25, 2015 | By

 

BlindWomansCurse_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Arrow Video USA / MVD Visual

Region: A, B

Released:  March 24, 2015

Genre:  Yakuza / Gangster / Ghost Cat

Synopsis: A woman blinded during a swordfight enacts an elaborate revenge scheme to decimate her aggressor before a final duel.

Special Features:  Audio commentary by Japanese film historian Jasper Sharp / Theatrical Trailer and additional Trailers / Collector’s Booklet / Region 1 DVD with identical extras.

 

 


 

Review:

Teruo Ishii’s revenge film is given the deluxe treatment by Arrow Video in this very nice Blu-ray edition, which sports a sparking transfer and a great full-length commentary track by Jasper Sharp.

Sharp’s been writing liner notes for the Nikkatsu Roman Porno titles released via Impulse Pictures and Synapse Films, and his expertise on studio Nikkatsu and Japanese cinema in general is pretty massive, making his track a detailed primer on the country’s studio system and the various genres and players who transgressed between classic and newfangled genres.

Ishii was obviously a craftsman – Blind Woman’s Curse is extremely well-directed and shows both style and care for characters, story, potent visuals, and great use of colour and surreal elements – but he was also a little eccentric, folding together action, violence, severed body parts, some erotic bits, and genuinely surreal imagery. The biggest surprise for Nikkatsu connoisseurs, though, is how the heroine and her lead lieutenants are powerful and respected women.

Meiko Kaji is amazing as tough-willed Akemi Tachibana, leader of a gang and the ‘head’ of a long dragon that’s tattooed on the backs of herself and her lieutenants. She becomes the primary target of Aiko Gouda (singer / actress Hoki Tokuda) when the latter is blinded during a swordfight that kick-starts the film.

Aiko cleverly plays several gangs against each other, and with her own lieutenant – a hunchback named Ushimatsu (Tatsumi Hijikata) – she knocks off sections of Akemi’s ‘dragon,’ craving out the tattoos and sending them to Akemi with malice. Secondary characters have romances, and rival gangs are headed by sly sadists or foul-smelling thugs, and the entire drama comes to a head in a graphic swordfight with blood that sprays hose-like from slain victims. When every rival has been neutered, Akemi must battle Aiko in a duel that’s eerily reminiscent of the finale in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), and one soon realizes the tentacles of this influential thriller.

Both the finale and the blood-spraying were worked into Tarantino’s homage, but Ishii’s film is more than a period revenge film. Certain elements – sunglasses, hats, use of telephones – create a clash with the films’ supposed 1920s setting, and there’s the hunchback character who seems more of a creation of performance artist Hijikata than Ishii.

Jasper Sharp provides a good overview of Hijikata’s career as a pioneering member of an anarchic theatrical style, and his character hops, licks, tumbles, somersaults, and grins his way through assorted action scenes. He’s also a member of Aiko’s carnival troupe – her cover that allows her to get close to clans within their territories – and while he may well date the film with a theatrical number typical of the late sixties (a purple-hazed set where Hijikata hops around while an assistant is humped by a dog clad in the Japanese flag), he adds the right does of the surreal to an already strange little film filled with gangsters, swordplay, inventive torture, and a blood-licking black cat with more than nine lives.

Blind Woman’s Curse could easily have been a violent, erotic film with pure action, but whether due to Kaji’s performance or a role tailored to her stoic persona and screen power, Akemi remains a three-dimensional character with loyal swordswomen, and there’s great power in Tokuda’s minimalist performance as the blind aggressor. Sharp characterizes the film as one of the last theatrical films produced by Nikkatsu before the studio switched to erotica and Roman Porno, making this drama about strong-willed women leading, manipulating, and overcoming male schemers a bit of revelation.

Ishii’s direction is kinetic yet never showy, Shiheru Kitaizumi’s 2.44:1 ‘scope cinematography is filled with gorgeous pastel colours, and Hijime Kaburaji’s score features some great dramatic tracks. Kaji, herself a skilled singer, croons the films’ poignant end theme which Tarantino used to close Kill Bill: Vol. 1.

Kaji would soon appear in the Female Convict Scorpion, Stray Cat Rock, and Lady Snowblood series, whereas Tokuda would step away from film, having previously appeared in just two films, Nippon Paradise (1964) and Chinkoro amakko (1965).

Director Ishii worked steadily into the early seventies, but he’s perhaps best-known for his weird adaptation of an Edogawa Rampo tale, Horrors of the Malformed Men (1969) starring Hijikata.

Arrow Video’s release includes trailers and a booklet, and replaces the prior 2007 Disotek Media DVD (although that release features a proprietary commentary track by American Cinematheque’s Chris D). Sharp’s commentary provides a great intro to Japanese cinema of the sixties and seventies, discussing other influential genres whose pivotal entries will surely push listeners to further explore Yakuza and ghost cat films.

Composer Hajime Kaburagi’s other credits include Tokyo Drifter (1966), Blackmail is My Life  (1968), Retaliation (1968), Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701’s Grudge Song (1973), and the nutbar S&M Roman Porno Fairy in a Cage (1977) under the nom de plume Taichi Yamanashi).

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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