Blind Woman's Curse (1970)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2015-03-23 23:29

Blind Womanís Curse (1970)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: April 21st, 2015

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

Blind Womanís Curse opens with a characterís nightmarish recollection of a fateful mistake that landed her in prison, and the film rarely relents in is dreamy, hallucinatory vibe. A feverish blend of Japanese yakuza, samurai, and horror films (with a sprinkle of the recently emergent pinku-eiga scene), Teruo Ishiiís curious effort anticipates the sort of genre-mashers that would become popular in the decades to comeówhich is just a fancy way of saying I bet Quentin Tarantino saw it a billion times growing up. Seriously, Blind Womanís Curse is some next-level shit that seemingly hasnít gotten its due because star Meiko Kajiís later projectsówhich include the Lady Snowblood and Female Prisoner seriesóhave overshadowed it for decades.

Here, Kaji is Akemi Tachibana, a mob bossís daughter facing three years of jail time after her role in a gang fight where she inadvertently blinded a bystander. While her cell mates initially distrust and dislike her, she quickly wins them over and gains their loyalty, so much so that five of them appear at her doorstep years later bearing dragon tattoos and pledging fealty. By then, Akemi has ascended to the Tachibana throne in the wake of her fatherís death, and with this responsibility comes strife from within and without. Sensing weakness, a scheming gangster (Toru Abe) enlists a Tachibana turncoat to goad his clan into going to war with a neighboring gang in the hopes of generating mutually-assured destruction.

Ishii lures the audience in with a familiar bait, as Blind Womanís Curse looks like the umpteenth riff on Yojimbo, albeit one with some notable eccentricities, like a cartoonish gangster whose garish attire features an absurd bowling hat and a red loincloth. The film doesnít truly divert until the intrusion a carnival troupe that boasts a blind knife-thrower (Hoki Tokuda) and a psychotic hunchback (Tatsumi Hijikata, the latter of which is introduced with a vibrant, unreal dance sequence that all but announces the filmís intent to stray into oddball territory. From here, the film begins to deal in flayed skin and preternatural black cats as much as it does Yakuza intrigue. One almost feels as if a gory revenge film has crashed into the proceedings, a collision that would seem awkward if Ishii hadnít already couched Blind Womanís Revenge in an otherworldly aesthetic.

That opening nightmare sequence really sets the tone: in it, we see Akemi working in concert with her tattooed clansmen in a bloody, bewitching ballet that climaxes with a black cat lapping up the arterial spray of the blinded girl. An omen that casts a long shadow, it guides the filmís off-kilter sensibilities, from its exquisite, moody cinematography to its fatalistic verve. Blind Womanís Curse is one of those horror films that just feels like a horror film, and itís completely intoxicating even when its more talkative stretches take over to twist and contort its plot. Despite its obvious Japanese roots, itís almost incredible how Blind Womanís Curse embodies the platonic ideal of this eraís Eurohorror, particularly the works of Argento and Bava, both of whom similarly leaned on style to outrun plot mechanizations. If not for the obvious connection between the blind swordfighter and Akemi, it would basically be a giallo, as stylish fits of violence and an eclectic musical score accentuate a plot driven by deception and intrigue.

Rather than climax with a stunning reveal, Blind Womanís Curse constantly grinds towards a final confrontation between warring clans, a grand, lavishly choreographed sequence where blood sprays and severed limbs become brushstrokes on a gory, revenge-stained canvas. Itís equal parts thrilling and horrifying, especially when it compels otherwise innocent bystanders into its carnage. One of the subplots involves a young girl whose father loses his life (and his head, which rolls off when he is somehow briefly reanimatedósuffice it to say, this stuff gets weird, man), which prompts her to vow her own revenge, which is realized in disturbingly bloody fashion . If Blind Womanís Curse has anything to say, you begin to finally sense it here, as this cycle of vengeance looks to spiral out of control.

I would be surprised if this sequence didnít somehow influence the House of Blue Leaves rampage in Kill Bill, especially since it yields to starkly intimate scene thatís echoed in the final showdown between Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman. Like that scene, this one is set at a quiet remove from the preceding ruckus, with two rivals finally clashing under the painterly, swirling skies. Whatís more startling is how Ishii resolves the fight: Blind Womanís Curse almost feels subversive in its shirking of its most obvious revenge plot. Against almost all odds, it ultimately isnít much of a revenge film at all but rather a surprisingly introspective look at the emptiness of violence.

Rather than treat its main two women as avatars destined for physical oblivion, it actually considers their spiritual purgatory: one is locked in a familial destiny, fated to carry on the work of her father, while the other wastes several years of her life chasing vengeance. Considering the film makes bizarre detours into the criminal underworld of opium dealers and their harems, color me surprised that the film isnít nearly as exploitative as it initially lets on. Both Kaji and Tokuda emerge as fascinating, contemplative figures in a film that could have just as easily subjected them to the rigors of grindhouse filmmaking.

Instead, thereís a tactfulness to Blind Womanís Curse thatís laudable: it might be a collision of Yojimbo, Tokyo Drifter, Zatoichi, Kuroneko, and various gialli, but it leaves some weirdly elegant wreckage in its wake. In the distance, you can see a black cat trailing it and slinking off, slyly evading the carnage yet leaving its mark all the same.

The disc:

For its second North American release, Arrow Video has upgraded Blind Womanís Curse to high definition with a solid Blu-ray release. The discís vibrant transfer does justice to the filmís gorgeous, dazzling visuals, and the 2.0 PCM Japanese audio track is crisp and clear.

The supplements include a feature commentary from film expert Jasper Sharp, a trailer for Blind Womanís Curse, plus trailers for Stray Cat Rock, another franchise Kaji headlined during the 70s. Hopefully, thatís a sign of things to come from Arrow, as the studio released a box set for that series in the UK last year. Selfishly, I would like to see it imported since this genre is a bit of a personal blind spot. On a less selfish note, hereís hoping the release of Blind Womanís Curse leads to its rediscovery: even though its cobbled together from so many familiar things, Iím not sure Iíve ever seen anything quite like it.
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