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Blind Woman’s Curse


Akemi (Meiko Kaji) is a dragon-tattooed leader of the Tachibana Yakuza clan. In a duel with a rival gang, Akemi slashes the eyes of an opponent and a black cat appears to lap the blood from the gushing wound. The cat along with the eye-victim, go on to pursue Akemi's gang in revenge, leaving a trail of dead Yakuza girls with their dragon tattoos skinned from their bodies. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

 Blind Woman's Curse
Teruo Ishii is a filmmaker all exploitation/horror fans need to be made more aware of. He was the mad genius behind the children’s sci-fi serial. Super Giant ( Star Wars before it was cool), the shockingly violent Shogun Joys of Torture (torture porn before it was cool), and the beautifully twisted Horrors of Malformed Men, along with nearly 100 other feature films, shorts, and television episodes. He continued making singularly strange genre hybrids (shot on digital video) until only a few years before his death in 2005. Blind Woman’s Curse was released in the wake of Malformed Men and, though it isn’t quite as extreme, it is another fine example of his use of vivid colour, dynamic editing, and expansive camera work. In accordance with many of Ishii’s other great movies, it is also a mash-up of multiple subgenre significations that were enjoying overlapping popularity in Japan at the time it was released. It was presumably designed to please every exploitation fan in the audience – part samurai drama, part period yakuza thriller, and even part absurdist comedy.

The tone flips and turns from scene to scene. A precedent is set early, when the opening title’s samurai battle devolves into a slow-motion nightmare. As Akemi jolts awake, Ishii appears to be assuring us that this is only a bad dream, but we soon discover that parts of the dream are memories. For the rest of the film, we can only assume everything that is happening is real, even the seemingly impossible. Soon after, ‘low’ comedy is imported in force as a villain is introduced via a zoom into his bright red thong, which is worn below mockingly western gangster garb. He and his gang reappear on several occasions to torment characters in similarly comedic ways (everyone tells him his crotch stinks) and Ishii is sure to squeeze his thonged butt squeezed into the frame at every possible convenience. Horror-themed violence and imagery is then peppered liberally between scenes of typical jidaigeki melodrama and fabulous samurai showdowns (the climax is especially memorable). Some of this has a relatively ‘realistic’ basis, like a scene where Tani (Makoto Satô) uncovers a hellish opium den. The blind assassin that is hired to kill Akemi’s clan (Hoki Tokuda) removes the tattoos of her victims and leaves their bodies in disturbing positions (hanging from a tree, crammed into a glass box) for their friends to find.

 Blind Woman's Curse
Other frightening events aren’t so easily integrated, specifically a number of inexplicably supernatural twists (the original Japanese title, Kaidan Nobori Ryû, translates basically to Ghost Story Rising Dragon, so the sudde appearance of ghostly elements probably wasn’t a surprise to Japanese audiences). One of Akemi’s compatriots is seemingly possessed after the bodies of other clan members are dumped on their doorstep and the ‘spell’ culminates in him gouging his own eyes out with a shard of glass. During the most disturbing and bizarre sequence, the characters visit a sort of circus where they witness half-nude women that growl like tigers, grotesque freak show maladies, a man cooking what appear to be human body parts, and an avant garde dance co-starring Tatsumi Hijikata, the mime/performance artist/Butoh dancer that was featured heavily in Horrors of Malformed Men.

In an interview with Chris D, Ishii verifies that he was told to add kaidan (ghost story) elements after filming had already commenced. This kind of last-minute, everything-for-everyone, studio mandate is, I think, a key component in the formula that makes these movies so special to fans and frustrating for neophytes. Yet, despite the challenges that these tonal shifts pose, the basic plot is easy to follow, which is more than I can say for other written-on-the-fly, B-movie productions. It may be a bit nonsensical in terms of the random asides, but Ishii doesn’t get so lost in the weeds that the basic narrative suffers. Not that coherent storytelling is a prerequisite for the entertainment value in such movies.

Blind Woman’s Curse was an early leading role for superstar exploitation actress Meiko Kaji. She was on the verge of breaking out in a big way with a series of mini-franchises, including the Stray Cat Rock movies, the Sasori (aka: Female Convict Scorpion) movies, the Gincho (aka: Wandering Ginza Butterfly) duology, and the Lady Snowblood duology – her most memorable role and a major inspiration on Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1. She worked with Ishii, Yasuharu Hasebe, Toshiya Fujita, Kinji Fukasaku, and Shunya Ito – the who’s who of the era – and culled a reputation as an incomparable femme fatale in Japanse cinema.

 Blind Woman's Curse

Video


The press release lists a ‘new’ HD transfer, but I compared my screencaps to those in Marcus’ RB UK review and don’t see any difference (the artefacts even match). That’s mostly okay, since it’s a pretty strong transfer, overall, but there was room for improvement in terms of gamma/contrast levels. Some fans suspected that the US release would correct the issue when it was held back, but the delay was due to an authoring error on the included DVD copies, not the Blu-ray. The blacks are definitely a bit weak and grey, though not nearly as much as Arrow’s Lady Snowblood disc (which is still the best available version of that particular movie). The problem does not dull elemental separation or textures, however, white levels are only occasionally blown out as a result of the lighter appearance.

Gamma and general age aside, this is a very nice, highly detailed, and extremely colourful transfer. The vibrant Fujicolor hues pop beautifully without any notable haloes or cross colouration and the textures/patterns are about as complex as the material will allow (soft and shallow focus ensure some of the wide angle images are a bit mushy). Grain is relatively consistent, aside from a few of the darker scenes, where the corners of the frame cake-up a smidge. Like the Massacre Gun transfer, this one appears to have had some problems during the scanning process. The top and bottom of the frame can flash white during the more jagged/sudden edits and the image sometimes warps. I didn’t find it particularly distracting, though, and neither should viewers used to the rougher 35mm look of similar movies from the same time period.

 Blind Woman's Curse

Audio


The original mono sound is presented in uncompressed PCM 2.0 audio. This is a stronger than the Massacre Gun track, including more consistent volume levels and cleaner, more natural dialogue. The sound effects work is balanced and relatively well layered, including a handful of really loud moments that feature no notable distortion issues. Again, the single channel treatment prevents a particularly deep sound field. Hajime Kaburagi’s music doesn’t crop up too often, but has some standout moments, including tracks sung by Kaji herself.

Extras


  • Commentary with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp – Another ace effort from the co-editor of Midnight Eye and writer of Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema. Sharp is full of critical information and capable of unraveling it quickly and pleasantly without overwhelming the listener. Despite having read up on Ishii before watching Blind Woman’s Curse, revisiting some of his other work, and discovering new facts about Nikkatsu Studios while watching the extra features on Arrow’s Massacre Gun Blu-ray, I learned plenty about the production and filmmakers here. Note that the older, OOP Discotek Media DVD featured a commentary with Chris D, who, along with Sharp and Midnight Eye’s other editor, Tom Mes, completes a trifecta of invaluable experts on the subject of Japanese B-cinema.
  • Trailer
  • Trailers for four of the films in the Meiko Kaji-starring Stray Cat Rock series ( Wild Jumbo, Sex Hunter, Machine Animal, and Beat ‘71 – all of which Arrow is bringing to Blu-ray this summer)


 Blind Woman's Curse

Overall


Blind Woman’s Curse is really fantastic. As a stylish medley of genre types and exploitation elements, it’s a great place for any fledgling fan of Teruo Ishii to start their collection. This new Blu-ray matches Arrow’s previous UK release, so there’s no reason for the folks that own that disc to upgrade, but the rest of us should be happy with the results. There are some minor gamma and condition issues with the transfer, but nothing that gets in the way of the experience. The PCM mono soundtrack sounds great and the extras include a very informative commentary track from expert Jasper Sharp.

 Blind Woman's Curse

 Blind Woman's Curse

 Blind Woman's Curse

 Blind Woman's Curse

 Blind Woman's Curse

 Blind Woman's Curse
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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