During a rain-drenched showdown between two Yakuza factions, Akemi, the leader of one faction, inadvertently slices the eyes of an innocent woman trying to protect her relative. She looks down to see a cat lapping up the fallen woman’s blood before the feline attacks her, in an act that Akemi is convinced is the product of a curse for her cruel carelessness. Five years and one jail sentence later, and Akemi has returned to once again lead her gang. But her celebrated return is seemingly soon marred by the very curse she suspects haunts her. Another rival gang is milling about and causing trouble, the flamboyant leader of a group of thugs is causing mischief, some of her gang members mysteriously go missing, one of her gang members may be a traitor, and a mysterious blind woman has been seen loitering around town. Add in an obnoxious cat, an unstable hunchback and a roguish, but friendly wanderer type who may or may not be willing to help her, and very soon Akemi may very well be wishing she’d stayed in prison.
You gotta love Japan and their weird-ass cinema. All the summaries I read of Blind Woman’s Curse before I watched it basically consisted of one-two sentences and made it sound like some kind of epic revenge plot with a yakuza angle. In reality, the revenge aspect sort of takes a backseat to everything else that’s going on. The film is actually a mash-up of yakuza/gang drama, fighting and japanese ghost/horror genres. Then for good measure it throws in a carnival freak show, some mystery, some surrealism and a good dose of comedy. It’s basically the answer to the unasked question of “What would a typical revenge film be like if everyone took a bong hit before production?” In short, very little of it makes much sense, but it still manages to be one hell of a ride.
The story starts out strong with a bloody fight between two rival yakuza gangs right out of the gate. And when I say bloody, I mean bloody. Bright red blood spurts every which way in this fight, and the gooey red goodness is liberally applied throughout the rest of the film as well. People are stabbed, sliced, diced and even skinned alive in this flick. There may actually be more blood in this movie than in some other well known horror films, which is an impressive feat considering it was filmed in the 70s.
No! No, kitty! That’s a bad kitty!
For a film filled with such violence one would expect a more serious tone. But the movie is actually pretty light hearted, all things considered. For every serious aspect there’s about 3 goofy characters or events to balance it back out. Oh, no! The creepy yakuza guy is about to assault that poor woman! Oh, wait, she tricks him into letting her go by saying she has to use the bathroom and then the friendly wanderer makes him fall face-first into some green pasty food. Crisis averted….I guess. Clearly, this is not a film that at all takes itself seriously. I mean, hell, even some of the deaths are given a comical bent to take the edge out of them. Which you’d think would be hard considering someone just got the skin of their back cut off, but there’s just no other way to describe discovering a body like this:
She was clearly the ultimate master of Duck Face.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that some of the acting ain’t all that great.
The movie initially gives the impression of being a revenge flick, but there’s actually very little focus on the titular blind woman. Instead, the entire film really centers around Akemi and what’s going on in her world. But even Akemi often ends up feeling like a side character in her own tale, because the movie peppers in a bunch of side stories that she’s really only tangentially related to and are completely unnecessary to the plot. There’s the whole carnival-like sideshow business that seems to exist solely as an excuse to show a bunch of severed heads. Then there’s this roving gang leader who’s trying to muscle in on the yakuza’s turf. He walks around with a bowler hat and a suit vest, and I can’t help thinking that he’s supposed to personify a Japanese version of a Dandy. Except he doubles as a comic relief character, so he’s also sporting a bright red thong that apparently smells to high-heaven because everyone and their brother comment on it. Are any of these scenes necessary? No. In fact, at 84 mins, I feel like they were added for the sole purpose of extending the film’s run time. Cut them out and the film could have managed to be more cohesive (maybe). But they exist, and they do manage to be entertaining, so you get to enjoy them and bask in all their included weirdness.
Clearly some of the extras were having too much fun.
Other than weird, the one other thing that comes to mind when thinking of this movie is how beautiful it is. The creators may have not put a lot of thought into this plot, but they sure as hell put a hell of a lot of effort into how it looked. Scenes are well choreographed, shots are clearly carefully planned, great attention is given to lighting and color, and the costuming and backdrops are all artistically rendered to give just the right aesthetic. Parts of this movie may feel like a fever dream, but damn it if it’s not one of the prettiest dreams you’ll ever have.
Japan really does love these pre-rendered sky backdrops, don’t they?
Even considering all the oddities and the rambling plot, the films greatest flaw lies with the characters and the special effects. For the most part, the acting in the film is pretty decent. This is Meiko Kaji’s (Lady Snowblood) first starring role as Akemi, but it’s hard to be inspired or impressed, as there’s so very little of her in the film. What we see of her is nice (and nice to look at), but more time is spent with the blind woman and the plotting leader of the rival yakuza gang. In fact, there are so many characters and so little time is dedicated to any of them, that it’s hard to form much of an opinion either way. Though I must admit, Loin Cloth Dandy was pretty entertaining.
The camera loved…his ass.
Then there’s the effects, which are sort of hit-or-miss. Something tells me that some of the less impressive looking effects were better viewed in a format that wasn’t HD. For every instance where they did something practical, like film reversal, which still holds up pretty well, there’s a counter point where they did something silly, like drag a taxidermied cat across the scene by a string. I guess there weren’t any cat trainers around that day that could get the animal to run across the set and they had a deadline to reach, cause the fact that it’s being pulled by a string is blatantly obvious. At one point it ‘jumps’ towards the viewer and you can clearly see the string holding it up, which is equal parts amusing and world breaking (strange though the world may be.)
They call him Stringy for a reason.
Blind Woman’s Curse is a strange little film, mashing together the genres of a female-lead yakuza film, mystery, ghost story, grotesque erotica and comedy all into one very unique film. It’s weird, it’s blood splattered and it’s mildly incohesive at times. But it’s also so visually striking and just downright entertaining that in the end it hardly matters. This isn’t a film that’s meant to be taken seriously. This is a film where you shut off your brain and have a good time. And in that respect, it succeeds in its goals. If you enjoy stylistic period pieces, strong atmosphere and fun fight scenes, and don’t take your yakuza films (or silly things like ‘plot’) too seriously, then Blind Woman’s Curse can be a lot of fun.
Blind Woman’s Curse is available for streaming on a variety of platforms.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray.