The Blind Woman’s Curse
- Original title
- Kaidan Nobori Ryu
- Japanese title
- Alternative title
- The Tattooed Swordswoman
- Running time
- 83 minutes
- 22 March 2007
by Tom Mes
Of all the off-beat delights conjured up by the sorely missed Teruo Ishii, The Blind Woman's Curse must surely rank as one of the strangest. Ishii's countless and diverse credits include the Joys of Torture series (Tokugawa Onna Keibatsushi, 1968-'69), the delightful Edogawa Rampo mishmash The Horror of Malformed Men (Kyofu Kikei Ningen, 1969) and the immensely popular Abashiri Prison series (Abashiri Bangaichi, 1965-'67) starring Ken Takakura, but even the notoriously slapdash director himself considered The Blind Woman's Curse nonsensical.
He had good reasons to think so; the third entry in a series that originally starred the actress Hiroko Ogi, The Blind Woman's Curse is a bizarre potpourri of ninkyo eiga yakuza movie, bakeneko ghost film and ero-grotesquery. Somewhere at its center, though hardly keeping everything together, stands Meiko Kaji, in her first starring role under her new screen name - she had been credited as Masako Ota, the name her parents gave her in 1947, until the previous year's Remnants of Japanese Chivalry (Nihon Zankyoden) directed by Masahiro Makino. It was her home studio Nikkatsu that suggested Kaji (though they gave her a second option, which was Katsura) and Makino who came up with Meiko.
Meiko Kaji, then, stars as Akemi Tachibana, the dragon tattoo-wearing leader of her late father's yakuza gang. In the opening credit sequence - an exciting, rainswept, slow-motion sword battle that Ishii himself copied (with some added gratuitous nudity) three years later in Female Yakuza Tale (Yasagure Anego-den: Sokatsu Rinchi, 1973) - we see Akemi and her gang attack a rival mob and accidentally wounding the boss's younger sister with a swordcut across the eyes. In the first of many an outlandish touch, a black cat appears out of nowhere to lap up the blood that spurts out of the wound.
Akemi spends three years in jail before returning to take command of the gang. A new group of rivals, the Dobashi-gumi (led by prolific ninkyo eiga villain Toru Abe), is trying to invade their territory with the help of a turncoat Tachibana member. What's more, the young woman of the opening scene has returned with a thirst for vengeance. Working as a blind knife thrower in a travelling grotesque sideshow, she is assisted in both her stage act and her quest for revenge by a most unusual pair of minions: a manic hunchback (butoh dance founder Hijikata, who also appeared in The Horror of Malformed Men) and the black cat that once drank her blood. No sooner have the threesome arrived in town, or Akemi's female aides start turning up dead, their dragon tattoos skinned from their bodies.
Outlining the story is hardly sufficient to get across the weird spectacle that is The Blind Woman's Curse. Co-written by Ishii and the later Roman Porno stalwart Chusei Sone, the weirdness is only partly intentional. The mix of yakuza, ghost story and ero-guro resembles complete delirium at times, aided by several jarring jump cuts that further dilute any sense of logic and rationale. The very least one can say is that there is no shortage of eye candy, with gaudily coloured set pieces like the circus tent filled with wax dummies, the Dobashi hide-out with its mirrors, trap doors and torture dungeons, and the final confrontation between Akemi and her blind nemesis, set against a phantasmagorical painted backdrop of spiralling clouds. It may not make a lot of sense, but there is plenty of fun to be had.