Blind Woman’s Curse

Here’s the first review: the current plan is to alternate paragraphs between Darren (http://todf.tumblr.com/) and Dana (http://throwherinthewater.tumblr.com/) and we kick off with Teruo Ishii’s classic Blind Woman’s Curse.

It’s a rough heuristic, but I’ve found an easy way to tell how a person thinks about movies is whether the wost thing a film can be is either confusing or boring. I like being confused (which is fortunate), and I honestly don’t care if all the threads get sewn up so long as I’m entertained. As such it’s no shock that I’m a big fan of Teruo Ishii. Hot on the heels of Horrors of Malformed Men and Orgies of Edo he directed Blind Woman’s Curse, staring Meiko Kaji, and honestly that alone should be reason enough for you to watch it. Need more? Tatsumi Hijikata plays a freaked-out circus performer! There’s straight-up swordfights, creepy ero-guro set pieces and (an Ishii trademark) a female gang who collectively share a dragon tattoo across their backs. There’s revenge, and revenge for revenge! There’s romance! There’s blood-drinking cats!

It’s definitely never boring; in fact, it’s this weird meld of a straight up pinky yakuza movie, a witchy horror movie, and a psychedelic freakout. You’re never sure where it’s going, but somehow, it works. I’m not actually that surprised, though – Ishii’s bread and butter is weirding out more traditional genre pieces. So, in Blind Woman’s Curse, you get a lot of stoic Meiko Kaji vowing revenge, but you also get a dizzying, kaleidoscopic circus scene that has to be seen to be believed. Plus, the titular blind woman is a knife thrower! Not many yakuza films can boast that.

If you come to this film as a Meiko Kaji fan expecting a minor Lady Snowblood you’ll soon be scratching your head, but the beginning definitely plays up that angle: a beautifully shot battle scene with all the slow-motion Kaji action you could want, and there’s plenty of “We must have our REVENGE!” scenes — one of Ishii’s greatest skills is delivering on the promises of his genre references. As feverish as his films can get, and even considering his deep interest in Butoh, he’s not trying to thwart expectations as much as hot-rod common film tropes into something else, which helps a film like this to remain engaging and satisfying even when it’s not always clear what the hell is going on. Combine that with his impeccable eye for composition, his use of depth, and the ensemble nature of the cast and Blind Woman’s Curse becomes way less difficult a proposition than it might sound.

There’s enough blood, particularly in the spectacular last 10 minutes, to keep everyone happy; especially me, particularly when Kaji’s lady-jailmates-turned-gangmates show up, and not just as comic relief. Two strong female warriors battling each other at the end is, no matter what the outcome, totally awesome, and the almost expressionist background for the fight – a painted backdrop of angry, swirling clouds – is amazing. Points for originality, points for straight up weirdness, points for badass fights.

It was at this point the film reminded me of Kwaidan, particularly The Woman In The Snow, reshot as an epic showdown. I’m such a sucker for these kind of mis-en-scene effects and Blind Woman’s Curse delivers in spades. Pretty much a must-see, and honestly one of the best places to start with Ishii’s body of work.