Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blind Woman's Curse (1970) Movie Review

After spending three years in prison, former gang boss, Akemi Tachibana has returned to regain and protect what is hers, but in lieu of a terrible inkling. Plagued by dreams featuring a blood-hungered black cat, Akemi, while a confident and tough Yakuza leader, worries that her luck is to take some manner of a fall. And so matters come in waves as the rival Donbashi-gumi begin taking terrible shots at her clan. Only further adding to the melee of violence and tragedy, are the lives of many whom Tachibana touches from a tough do-gooder (Makoto Sato), a retired elder gangster and his sunny daughter (Yoko Takagi) who also work as proprietors of a local eating establishment. More ominous yet, is the arrival of a blind swordswoman with a terrible tale and a score to settle. Could a premonition truly be at work?

Not so easily summed up as even a simple narrative, Blind Woman’s Curse, not unlike so many films bearing the name of often controversial film icon, Teruo Ishii, is more about experience than plot. As much like an improvisational piece as it is often symbology-riddled, it is both refreshing, and at times disorienting. And even as Tachibana’s tale remains one of the classic yakuza revenge variety, there is an often freewheeling, borderline surrealist mind at work within the heart of it as it often wildly vacillates between standard storytelling, and even dreamlike excursions into old fashioned horror. Visions of hell haunt much of the story, as it delves closer and closer toward what seems to be Tachibana’s fate. It is as much a loopy haunted funhouse trip, as it is a simple tale of karmic retribution. Hell seems just a flirt away with some truly creepy elements from a nightmarish traveling fair, to some effectively eerie backgrounds toward the finale. Chock full of color, and theatrical tricks, it is an out-of-control piece that is more likely for the psychotronic set than perhaps even yakuza eiga nuts.

To even try to make sense of the film is akin to an exercise in futility, even as it attempts to weave a web of past and recent deeds, leading to a twist-packed finale. As Tachibana’s return to gang leader life is complicated by members on the inside plotting to betray her, outside forces are hard at work to make sure her return is but a brief one. It’s not long before betraying parties are revealed to be working for the local top contender in violent drug peddler, woman trafficking Donbashi. A man who seems unfazed at doing more than smearing names to get the job done. Almost immediately, bodies begin to pile up, and reputations are tarnished. And it’s bad enough being dogged by the fundoshi-sporting weirdo in Aozora and his lot, but the sleazy and conniving ways of Donbashi eventually push Akemi and cohorts into breaking vows, and diving headlong into a bloody confrontation with destiny that must be seen to be comprehended.  

Also noteworthy aside from the near assault-like psychedelia on display, is the initial starring role of one Masako Ota, who later became known as Meiko Kaji. More a preview of her own specific brand of stoic beauty, the film’s take on her character is that of one sure of her comeuppance. She is aware that something is indeed coming her way. And as a strong leader, is doing her best to lessen the storm damage that seems to be unavoidable. So when her ultimate rival comes in the form of blind swordmaster, Hoki Tokuda, who is in her own right an imposing presence, the film is at times at least attempting to make some manner of moralistic stance as both are primed to clash, and yet have so much in common. (Personally speaking, a whole movie featuring this character would have been more than enough great material to work with.) In all, Blind Woman’s Curse is akin to those classically anarchic drive-in pastiches of the past. But it also has with it tons of style to spare. Ishii may have let simple sense get away from him here, but it is no way a total deterrent. Great, mad fun.

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