Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Blind Woman's Curse (1970)


Dir. Teruo Ishii

It was fateful when the producers requested directed Teruo Ishii and co-screenwriter Chûsei Sone add a ghost cat subplot to their samurai film, as it was already being shot, drastically effecting full narrative cohesiveness. It's a testament though that the film it's director himself called 'nonsensical' still wraps together as a great genre film. In a gang-on-gang battle, leader of the Tachibana gang Akemi Tachibana (Meiko Kaji) blinds the sister of the other gang's leader mid-duel, a black cat appearing to lick up the victim's blood thus cursing Akemi. Along with this curse, a rival gang, through a traitor, intend to take over her territory, leading to desired revenge, murders and a carnival freak show. Blind Woman's Curse is one of the weaker Japanese cult films I've seen from the seventies or so, if only because I have to compare it to the best from Japan that I've seen. It's second or third tier, but it's still unbelievably well crafted and superior in comparison to others. This can be said with confidence considering that, barring the fact that the ghost cat subplot doesn't really make sense, the 'nonsensical' film is far more rationally explainable than you'd think. Certainly nightmarish and peculiar, with its house of horror moments and gore, but it's paradoxically awesome that Ishii viewed this as the nonsensical when his own, and superior, film Horrors of Malformed Men (1969), is utterly bizarre.

What stands out the most with the film is that it's various pieces, whilst able to connect together, do also stand out individually. Everything is beautifully shot, like the opening sword battle, an eye for rich colour and setting, an air of artifice, bold throughout. The sword battles have considerable weight, added to by the traditional water hose pressure levels of bloodletting in the practical effects. The gang against gang ploy is interesting, of scuzzy villains and scuzzier goings-on with opium drugged, half naked women laying around outside the main villain boss's bedroom, another room just designed as an elaborate death trap and almost everything being shot in gel colour psychedelic lighting. The really memorable things are those that, ironically, were introduced as a result of the ghost cat having to be added to the narrative or fit together with it in the plot. Not only do you get to see an obviously fake cat being pulled along in a graveyard at one point because of this, but whilst a samurai film at heart, it leans greatly into horror cinema. It edges closely to the ero guro, erotic grotesque as critic Tom Mes believes the film does 1. The inspired motif of the dragon tattoo Akemi's gang has, she with the head and others with the fragments of one larger work, is given an added nastiness involving skinning of certain victims. The carnival that the blinded woman of the title getting revenge (Hoki Tokuda) and her hunchback assistant (Tatsumi Hijikata) are part of invokes Horrors of Malformed Men completely, bringing you images of a old man cooking fake limbs and dolls in a giant pan, bandaged and half naked "mutants", a woman as an improvised roof decoration and a severed head gag that strangely evokes Scooby Doo. Yes, it feels abrupt and along with the ghost cat plot feels bolted on, but it certainly adds an edge to the material, especially as the desire for revenge Tokuda 's character Aiko Goda  has against Akemi, ending the film with a sword duel under incredible twilight, vortex-like clouds in a night sky, does fit into the narrative very well.

Surprisingly Meiko Kaji is off-screen for a large amount of the film, her first main role, but that doesn't stop her from being a charismatic lead who has made her reputation in cult cinema for justifiable reasons, able to emote with immense passion for dramatic scenes, to show sadness, to show joy, and as with the Female Prisoner Scorpion movies, show a death stare that looks like she can rip a man's throat out in a way that would make Sonny Chiba cower from her, let alone slash them up with a blade.  She's backed up by actors into the heroic leads that are just as charismatic. Makoto Satô as the main heroic lead so laidback that he can casually block a person without breaking a sweat or change his expression. A comedy male sidekick who lusts after the women and openly makes comments about his giant set of front teeth in a sword battle, looking like he could bite someone's head off with them whilst using a blade with skill at the same time, interacting with Akemi's fanclub of women who will gladly die for her like a lustful teenager they are apathetic to. Butoh dance founder Tatsumi Hijikata gets another role here, while significantly smaller than his main role in Ishii's Horrors of Malformed Men, as a hunchback ally to the vengeful blind woman, bringing the clear influence of his own dance ideology to his character's movements and behaviour whilst contributing to the more ghoulish aspects of the narrative strands narratively. Even a character who has no point for said narrative, like the one played by Ryôhei Uchida, is memorable, both for the fact that a man in a bowler hat, gold buttoned vest and wearing only a red thong under the waist is incredibly memorable, but also because the actor makes the character a suitably amusing comedic character everyone can smell from a distance and is not as able to back up his threats as physically as he says verbally. No one in this film, nonsense or not, can be said to not be interesting at all.

Blind Woman's Curse is still pretty unconventional for a samurai film from what I've viewed. It's narrative is awkwardly put together on paper, but it viewing it this is not the case, the moments that don't add a spice that adds to its qualities. As literally happens, you go from a scene of two people being sent back to Akemi's gang in caskets, everyone saddened, followed by one of their members suddenly jumping into shot claiming to be possessed by a ghost cat and smashing his head into a window, with suitably green, eerie lighting for effect. It makes no rational sense, but the great thing about Ishii's film is that the samurai content is sane enough to balanced out the unrational material like this perfectly, thus giving you your good pulp narrative and the purely lurid at the same time. The entire film is put together perfectly, looking like a lurid coloured, horror film, set in its own world.

Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
It is a strikingly unconventional film, but it's surprising that Blind Woman's Curse, which has its moments of lurid content, does fit together it's various pieces snugly enough to not really feel abstract enough for the list. It is not Horrors of Malformed Men - as perverse, strange or liable to still be suppressed from being seen in its home country - and won't be added to the list for this reason. It creeps towards it at points, especially with moments as a character coming back from the grave in a very macabre way, but not enough.

Personal Opinion:
The film itself is utterly entertaining. In a moment where a song plays over images of contemplation, I thought "Yeah, I really like this film". Just because it doesn't reach the madness of the other film I've seen by Teruo Ishii doesn't mean it's not a great film itself. Together with it, it does make Ishii's other films very enticing for me to see. And it's more enticing as, while not that nonsensical, Ishii could make a film that was forced to abruptly add a supernatural plot line during the production of it and still make something that wraps it all neatly together. That the moments that don't nonetheless add a delirious edge to the proceeding content makes it more memorable.

1From the accompanying booklet for the Arrow Blu-Ray/DVD Release

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