Meiko Kaji: The Original Girlboss

The formidable Meiko Kaji stars in The Blind Woman’s Curse and Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, showing at HOME as part of Japan ’70: Cinema on the Edge, their companion piece to the BFI’s Japan 2021: 100 Years of Japanese Cinema season. Best known for her lead roles in Female Prisoner Scorpion series and the wonderful Lady Snowblood, Kaji’s powerful screen presence paved the way for strong female leads across cinema, not least including Ripley from Alien and Aoyama in Audition. Quentin Tarantino heavily borrowed elements from Lady Snowblood for his Kill Bill series, from Uma Thurman’s character ‘The Bride’, to the visuals, fight sequences and narrative itself. Kaji’s own song Flower of Carnage also provides the soundtrack for Kill Bill: Vol 1.

The Blind Woman’s Curse is a stylistic yakuza thriller combining a vengeance narrative with grotesque imagery strongly influenced by kabuki theatre. Known as the “King of Cult”, director Teruo Ishii was inspired by author Edogawa Ranpo in his previous works Female Punishment of the Tokugawa (1968) and Horrors of Malformed Men (1969). This offering from Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu is a rarity, and shows how the company sought to mirror the success of independent “pink film” studios including OP Eiga.

Kaji plays Akemi, a woman seemingly cursed by a supernatural black cat after accidentally blinding a rival gang member. After taking on her father’s legacy as leader of the Tachibana Yakuza, her dragon head tattoo marks her as a target for a mysterious opponent with an enigmatic sidekick played by Tatsumi Hijikata, whose stilted and exaggerated performance create a jarring experience for the viewer.

With wonderful visuals and thrilling fight scenes reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, The Blind Woman’s Curse offers a menagerie of slapstick and action but it’s the gothic elements and supernatural overtones that makes this a film worth watching.

Yasuharu Hasebe’s Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter was released at the peak of the exploitation genre’s popularity, at a time when sukeban girl gangs began to challenge the dominant male-led society. With beautifully imagined sets and a psychedelic soundtrack, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter explores the dynamics of youth culture, race and sexual identity.

Kaji plays Mako, leader of female gang The Alleycats who are delinquent youths at war with the all-male Eagles, led by Baron (Tatsuya Fuji). After one of the Stray Cats rejects a member of the Alleycats in favor of Kazuma, a dual-heritage drifter, the Eagles begin a series of racial attacks leading to an array of showdowns between the two rival gangs.

Scenes of 1970’s US occupied Japan are punctuated with stylistic fight scenes, including a memorable occurrence involving Molotov cocktails. Blending together the Japanese western, 1970’s costumes and psychedelic music, this is a rare treat.

The Blind Woman’s Curse is showing at HOME on Thu 9 Sep, 20:40 and Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter is showing Sun 12 Sep, 17:45.

By Astarte Cara