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Original title: Hîchirimen bâkuto – nôbarydu takahadâ

aka Black Cat’s Revenge; Strange Tales of Dragon Tattoo; The Tattooed Swordswoman

D: Teruo Ishii / 85m

Cast: Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satô, Hideo Sunazuka, Shirô Ôtsuji, Tôru Abe, Yoshi Katô, Yôko Takagi, Tatsumi Hijikata

Akemi (Kaji) is the head of the notorious Tachibana gang. During an attack on a rival gang, she kills the gang’s leader and inadvertently injures his sister. A spell in prison sees Akemi bond with five of her fellow inmates and they all have part of a larger dragon tattoo inked onto their backs. Three years later, and Akemi is head of the Tachibana clan again but she has determined to go straight. This doesn’t sit well with some of her followers, particularly Tatsu (Ôtsuji), who plots with a rival yakuza gang leader, Dobashi (Abe), to have her overthrown. Tatsu ensures that two of the Tachibana clan are killed by Dobashi’s men so as to incite war between the two gangs, but Akemi is forebearing and doesn’t rise to the bait.

Shortly after, Dobashi is approached by a blind woman, Aiko (Tokuda), who offers him her services as a swordswoman. Impressed by her skill with a blade, Dobashi accepts. But before he can devise the next stage of his plot against Akemi, one of her friends from prison is found murdered, and with her tattoo removed from her back. A note attached to the body promises further violence and makes it clear that Akemi is the ultimate target. Matters between the two gangs escalate, including the murder of Akemi’s uncle (Katô) and the kidnapping of his daughter, Chie (Takagi). With the aid of a wandering fighter-for-hire called Tani (Satô), Akemi eventually decides to face Dobashi head on, but finds herself facing the blind woman instead.

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Blind Woman’s Curse is a weird concoction, combining as it does a vengeful blind woman, warring yakuza gangs, an eye-rolling, wild-haired hunchback, an opium den full of topless female addicts, gory violence, references to William Tell, a curse involving a black cat, an underwater torture sequence, a hint of the supernatural, and a third gang leader who wears a bowler hat and a loose, buttock-revealing red loincloth. There’s rarely a dull moment, or a shot that doesn’t make the viewer sit up and take notice, but even with all this going on, there’s a nagging feeling that all these elements don’t quite add up to a satisfying whole. As the movie progresses, the various plot strands sometimes tie themselves up in so many knots that they need the aid of a samurai blade to solve things. By the time Tani and Chie escape the underwater torture devised for them by Dobashi, and do so miraculously and without explanation, it’s clear that the movie – scripted by director Ishii with Chûsei Sone – is in a hurry to reach a conclusion, and if the movie’s internal logic needs to be sacrificed, then so be it.

And yet, the bizarre combination of elements does work for the most part, and the movie does have its fair share of entertaining set-pieces – the opening slow-motion, rain-soaked battle between Akemi’s men and a rival gang is a good example. It’s all shot with a mix of painterly formality and tense immediacy by Shigeru Kitaizumi, and for once, the editing (by Osamu Inoue) doesn’t hamper the flow and rhythm of the movie in the way that a lot of similar Japanese movies of this ilk are affected. Ishii, better known for the ten-movie Abashiri Prison series, brings out the usual themes of honour and regret, and makes Akemi a more solemn character than might be expected. He also keeps any humour to a minimum, choosing instead to focus on the  theme of revenge. It all adds up to a better-than-average outing within the genre, and well worth seeking out.

Rating: 7/10 – Ishii’s take on yakuza versus yakuza is an intense, often thrilling example of Japanese movie making gone berserk; Blind Woman’s Curse throws in everything but the kitchen sink, and in the process proves largely rewarding, even if it does go off at a tangent too many times for its own good.

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