Blu-ray Review: Blind Woman’s Curse

Starring: Meiko Kaji, Makoto Sato

Director: Teruo Ishii

Rating: 7/10

The Japanese cinema industry spawned countless exploitation movies (known as “pink films” or “pinky violence films”) in the ’60s and ’70s. Blind Woman’s Curse (aka The Tattooed Swordsman, 1970) is a product of that fevered epoch, and it’s amazing that it’s had to wait this long for its UK home video debut.

Helmed by Teruo Ishii, a director known for his mix of comedy and Grand Guignol, it concerns one Akemi (Meiko Kaji), the (young, female) leader of a yakuza gang, who is cursed by a cat demon (or something) during a violent street ruckus. When, several years later, one of her gang goes blind and mad, and another one turns up dead with the dragon tattoo (their clan emblem) flayed from her back, Akemi is convinced that she has brought supernatural doom upon everyone she loves. As if that weren’t enough, a rival yakuza boss – a sleazy bloke who keeps an all-girl opium den in his cellar – is trying various underhand means to oust them from their turf, and he looks set to succeed thanks to a traitor in Akemi’s ranks.

What no synopsis can hope to convey is just what a strange, almost improvisational amalgam of traditional Japanese ghost story, yazuka thriller and ’60s psychedelia Blind Woman’s Curse is. The story makes many a segue into the outlandish and grotesque, with Ishii much more interested in mood, colour, funny gags and hideous spectacle than coherent narrative. Logic takes a backseat, but on the plus side, nothing plays out quite the way you expect it to, and there’s always plenty going on, with regular bouts of cartoony violence, eerie spookiness and knockabout humour to entertain. Besides, you can’t go far wrong with a cast of characters that includes a hairy hunchback who licks people’s faces and can jump backwards onto a roof in one leap; a blind female assassin who can smell whether a man is good or bad, and who also throws knives in a creepy variety show; and a suave alpha male who can fend off an armed opponent with a pot of wasabi.

Untidy and uneven though it might be, it’s an extremely lovable film, more Russ Meyer than Akira Kurosawa, with a devil-may-care, freewheeling, anything-goes attitude that is very refreshing. The sword fights are rather ponderous by modern standards, and Akemi herself is a disappointingly inert character for much of the time, but even the biggest sceptic will come away from Blind Woman’s Curse with a handful of treasured moments – the gory showdown, for instance, in which Akemi goes into battle assisted by a bunch of girls with dishrags tied around their heads; or the bit where blood sprays upwards out of a baddie’s chest wound, drenching his glasses; or maybe the way everyone, male and female, is forever shrugging off their tops to flex their muscles and display their yakuza tattoos.

This Blu-ray release presents an extremely clean restoration with only a couple of scratches and blemishes from the negative remaining. The transfer retains a small amount of grain and is a little soft on detail, but this is all in tune with the Grindhouse aesthetic,  and the pastel hues of the Japanese film stock are very pretty and lend an extra gloss of exoticism to what is already a decidedly different kind of movie.

Extras including an informative audio commentary and a brace of spellbinding trailers for the Kaji-starring Stray Cat Rock series of pinky violence films, which are packed with some truly wicked taglines: “They cower in fear at one female kitten!” “Long live LSD! Long live machine guns!” “20th century youth will challenge everything with a sardonic laugh!” Be warned, though, after watching these trailers, you won’t want to rest until you’ve seen every one of the films in full. Thankfully, Arrow is releasing them later this year. “Idleness intensifies and wild excitement escalates!”

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