I think by most late 60's/early70's Japanese popcorn, genre, exploitation, whatever you prefer to call it, film standards, 1970's Blind Woman's Curse (aka. (Black Cat's Revenge, The Tattooed Swordswoman) is a solid enough and satisfying. Unfortunately, for director Teruo Ishii and star Meiko Kaji, they have resumes with films that set the bar higher than a film like Blind Woman's Curse can attain, so it ends up being a tad mediocre in comparison. Still, that isn't to say it isn't an entertaining hybrid of the period gangster, revenge, and horror film genres.
The film begins with Akemi (Meiko Kaji), the current heir to the Tachibana gang, delivering a slow motion, rain swept, night time beatown on a rival gang. She accidentally blinds a bystander (Hoki Tokuda). A black cat lapping up the blood of the titular blinded woman is seen by Akemi as a bad omen, a consequence of her violence now marking her, haunting her. After a three year stint in prison, Akemi emerges with a new attitude which is befitting since the gang has undergone a softening and no longer looks to war with rivals, engage in seedier criminal pursuits, and basically is content keeping a fragile hold on its territory.
Since the Tachibana's are weakened, their competition looks to take advantage. Mainly, gang leader Dobashi (Toru Abe), who has a turncoat Tachibana insider under his wing and a plan to force the Tachibana into war with yakuza Aosara (Ryuhei Uchida) in hopes that the two will destroy/cripple each other in the process and Dobashi can swoop in and take their turf. Despite help from a do-good scrapper, Tani (Makoto Sato), Akemi's feelings of guilt-ridden damnation make her unwilling to put her gang into the fight. This throws a kink in Dobashi's plan until a traveling carnival of the grotesque enters town and with it the vengeance-seeking woman Akemi blinded. Soon, Tachibana gang members begin to turn up dead, their tattooed skin flayed, their bodies pinned with notes warning that the slaughter will continue.
Blind Woman's Curse came out right on the cusp of Meiko Kaji's career defining, breakout run that included the Stray Cat Rock, Sasori/Female Convict Scorpion, and the Lady Snowblood films. Blind Woman's Curse isn't mentioned in the same breath as those films very often because in it her character is largely neutered, side-stepping any action or display of strength until the films finale where she finally blossoms into the confident, poised, badass heroine of cold and deadly intent that her fans came to love. Though this is a choice defined by the plot, one suspects that if the film had been produced a year or two later, after the Stray Cat Rock and Female Convict Scorpion films showed what she was capable of, the story would have been modified so that her character came across as a tad less dormant and gunshy and a lot more simmering.
When it came to b films (a term I use lovingly), Teruo Ishii helmed everything. Giant superheroes, sci fi, biker, yakuza, horror, torture, karate, prison, the surreal, and often all of the above were his playground. He had a nack for delivering pure, no nonsense entertainment, in the second half of his career often with inventive, exploitative dazzle, but Blind Woman's Curse is a film where the gears dont totally click. While it is a marriage of period yakuza, revenge, and horror genres, each of those elements is only executed in a so-so manner. Thankfully, holding the film together- just enough- are some Teruo Ishii trademarks, be it the grim action, sophomoric comedy, lurid, psychedelic horror, and a fine cast of great Japanese character actors who deliver their roles with aplomb.
The DVD: Discotek.
I was surprised to find that the copy of the film I've long had was roughly a minute and a half shorter than this 85 minute version. Surprised, because there is actually quite a bit of violence, the films most violent moments, left in tact on my old copy. Yet I compared the two and found there are some slight trims, a snatch of dialogue, a sword slash, and mainly a sequence where Tani is searching Dobashi's compound and goes through an opium den, room of the damned, littered with a bunch of naked, drugged out women. All I can say is, thank your diety of choice for Discotek.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Top to bottom, from capturing Meiko Kaji's killer stare to the henchman hunchback's drooling mouth, it looks great. A scene or two exhibits some softness, but overall it is quite sharp and crisp. Contrast is nice and deep with excellent black levels. Colors are strong and vivid. The print is nice and clean, and I didn't notice much wear except in a scene or two, very scant, at the bottom of the frame.
Sound: Mono, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Good considering the era's limitations. The audio is well-presented, clear, with no severe age wear and tear.
I've suffered through so many garbled, unreadable subs, I am very forgiving. Having said that, the subs on this disc showcase one of my personal peeves when it comes to subtitles. The subtitles on this disc frequently use all caps for stressed words. Some examples are, "I'll fucking KILL you!" and "THAT is what a handsome man looks like." I am NOT a fan because vocal inflections are universal. No matter what the language, a dog or an infant can understand them, so spelling them out is, in my opinion, totally unnecessary and distracting. Less bothersome on the disc are a few instances of text-expressed slurring/purring like, "Oh dearrr."
Extras: Trailer. --- Photo Gallery. --- About the film text essay. --- Audio commentary by Chris D. The author of "Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film," provides another decent commentary. Early on he gives some good basic info on the particulars, from the stars, director, and the state of Jpn cinema at the time. I did find the track loses some steam about the midway point where Chris comes across as pretty indifferent and bored with film. His opinions about Teruo Ishii I do not totally agree with, be it Teruo Ishii's penchant for injecting silly humor or Blind Woman's Curse's superiority to Female Yakuza Tale. Luckily by the end, the track picks up again, and overall it is worth a listen.
Conclusion: A fun, entertaining film that doesn't quite live up to the wildness, seediness, or gore one imagines that a period gangster/horror hybrid from its era could deliver. While not the greatest film for either Teruo Ishii or Meiko Kaji, it has more than enough gang drama, revenge dynamics, and creepiness to hold any viewers interest. Discotek delivers with an eye-popping transfer and decent round of extras, making it well worth a purchase for foreign exploitation film lovers.