The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>Blind Woman's Curse</i> (1970) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - Blind Woman's Curse (1970)

Hi-def reissue of Teruo Ishii's cult supernatural Yakuza actioner.

Directed by: Teruo Ishii
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Sato, Hideo Sunazuka, Shiro Otsuji

The Movie:

Teruo Ishii's bizarre hybrid of Yakuza mob war and ghost story starts in exemplary fashion with a glorious rain swept slow motion battle, as Akemi (Kaji) of the Tachibana Clan attacks a rival gang, tattooed so that each individual member as a whole makes up a picture of a Dragon. The imagery and choreography give the film a dreamlike quality that in places makes this feel like a far east Jodorowsky genre mash up.
By the director's own admission, Ishii’s film may not make a whole lot of narrative sense, a film of moments rather than a coherent story, but there is such marvellous idiosyncratic invention on show that it is hard to hold any flaws against it. After blinding the daughter of a clan leader in the opening battle, Akemi considers herself cursed, the appearance of a black cat portending an evil end to her and the Tachibana Clan. Ishii’s ramshackle approach to storytelling means what starts out as supernatural infused Yakuza tale becomes a by the numbers historical turf war picture, if a film that features a gang boss prone to wearing a red thong nappy (like a Wushu Peter Stringfellow) and never washing can be called by the numbers. Throw in the devious Senba-Tatsu (Otsuji), the traitor in the Tachibana clan, looking like a double agent Tommy Vance, and enemy clan leader Dobashi (Toru Abe), who you can tell is a wrong ‘un because he cheats at dice and keeps a harem of opium addicted lovelies at his disposal, and you would have a completely serviceable chop socky drama.
Ishii, for all the world looking like he is making this up on the spot, then realises he has a curse narrative in play and introduces the blind female swords-woman, Aiko (Tokudo). She of the titular curse and her hunchback assistant. This gives rise to one of the films most striking sequences, set in a circus, that is genuinely strange and uncanny. The mystery of Aiko should not be particularly difficult for anyone with two brain cells to rub together but anybody with a love of 70’s crash zooms, high body counts, and Far Eastern weirdness should be in heaven. A subplot involving a daughter of a clan member and her nomadic lover feels unnecessary even in a film as brisk as this but no worries Ishii always has another weird set piece up his sleeve.
Ishii interestingly plays with stereotypes, this is in the end a film of two women, one weighed down with familial expectations, the other driven by revenge that has left them both hollow at the core. For all its larky misogyny, it is a film suffused with melancholy and features a stand out performance from genre stalwart Meiko Kaji. Both women may be guilty of committing criminal acts, but the weight of expectation on their shoulders gives them an ambivalence and emotional empathy that is rare in this genre.  Rather than a film of vengeance, it becomes a movie of second chances, well, unless you’re a cat.

The transfer supervised by Nikkatsu Studios is up to Arrow’s usual high standard. The visuals pop and the uncompressed Mono Audio does its job perfectly. Other than a commentary from Japanese Cinema expert Jasper Sharp, though, this is fairly slim picking. You get an original trailer plus four trailers from the Stray Cat Rocks films with some nicely dead pan subtitling. That’s your lot in terms of disc content. You do get the usual reversible sleeve and booklet, which has an essay from Tom Mes. Relatively weak compared to some of Arrow’s releases but still a worthy investment for those that like to frolic on the stranger shores of Japanese Cinema.

Jason Abbey