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Place: New York

Cruel Beauty: A Romantic Weekend with Meiko Kaji

Art Categories:  Film

Blind Woman's Curse © 1970 Nikkatsu Corporation

After the Inauguration Day on January 20, 2017, people gathered together to hold the Women’s March in multiple cities all over the world. Many different communities and individuals joined the march and shouted out their wish for love.

 

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance © 1974 Toho Co., Ltd.

In these days of disturbance, Japan Society will host the screening event “Cruel Beauty: A Romantic Weekend with Meiko Kaji” from Friday Feb 10 – Sunday Feb 12. Guest curated by Marc Walkow, “Cruel Beauty” allows the charismatic Meiko Kaji to descend on screen again. While “La La Land” continues to lullaby moviegoers with fantasy, dream and sweet and bitter love, these films, including some of the 1970s’ most iconic series “Stray Cat Rock” and “Female Prisoner 701”, invite the audience into the bizarre, fascinating world of female gangs and assassins.

 

Working in entertainment since the mid-1960s, Meiko Kaji had a blooming era in the 1970s. Japan Society’s “Cruel Beauty” weekend highlights some of the films of this period that solidified Meiko Kaji’s beautiful, cool and indomitable image, and propelled her to become, as the Women’s Lib movement emerged, a symbol of feminism in Japan. Eventually Ms. Kaji and the vengeance of her characters influenced Quentin Tarantino’s monumental films like “Kill Bill” and “Inglourious Basterds.”

 

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable © 1973 Toei Co., Ltd.

Most of the films from “Cruel Beauty: A Romantic Weekend With Meiko Kaji” depict an anti-authority attitude and a resistance toward male-dominated society. “Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter” in particular even explores racial tensions and intolerance, themes that resonate strongly today. If the world seems to be hopeless and out of control, Ms. Kaji disposes of the scum for you. Are you curious about this 1970s legendary heroine of Japan who synchronizes with our time and moreover inspires us?

 

 

Text by Taiyo Okamoto

 

 

SCREENING SCHEDULE AND FILM DESCRIPTIONS

Film descriptions written by Marc Walkow. All films are in Japanese with English subtitles. These films are unrated but recommended for persons 18 years of age and older.

 

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss’s Head (Shin Jingi Naki Tatakai Kumicho no Kubi)

**International Premiere

Friday, February 10 at 7 PM

1975, 94 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku. With Bunta Sugawara, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Meiko Kaji.

 

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Head © 1975 Toei Co., Ltd.

Never before released outside Japan, Kinji Fukasaku’s follow-up trilogy to his successful Battles Without Honor and Humanity series tells three unrelated stories about yakuza intrigue and betrayal, and this middle film co-stars Meiko Kaji as the dutiful wife of a heroin-addicted hitman (Tsutomu Yamazaki) who befriends, then betrays, series star Bunta Sugawara. An essential link within Fukasaku’s cinematic world, The Boss’s Head found him expanding his action vocabulary to include car stunts, as well as creating not one, but two meaty female roles (the other played by Yuriko Hishimi). Composer Toshiaki Tsushima contributes another memorable score, and the ensemble casting is among the best of the entire series. A yet-to-be-discovered classic.

 

 

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (Shurayukihime Urami Renka)

Saturday, February 11 at 4:30 PM

1974, 89 min., DCP, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Toshiya Fujita. With Meiko Kaji, Juzo Itami, Yoshio Harada.

 

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance © 1974 Toho Co., Ltd.

Meiko Kaji took a break from her work on the Scorpion series at Toei to make a pair of bloody period swordplay films at Toho Studios, based on a manga by Kazuo Koike, the creator of Lone Wolf and Cub. The Lady Snowblood films, both of them directed by former Nikkatsu collaborator Toshiya Fujita, cast Kaji as the swordswoman Yuki, born in prison, and raised to seek vengeance on the group who raped her mother and murdered her father. Love Song of Vengeance, the sequel, sets Yuki on a different path, helping a left-wing dissident (Juzo Itami) who seeks to reform the government and expose a conspiracy between military and industrial forces which threaten the future of the nation. [A well-documented influence on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, Walkow discusses the history of the Lady Snowblood films in-depth at Film Comment.]

 

 

Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (Nora-neko Rokku Sekkusu Hanta)

Saturday, February 11 at 7 PM

1970, 85 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yasuharu Hasebe. With Meiko Kaji, Rikiya Yasuoka, Tatsuya Fuji.


Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter © 1970 Nikkatsu Corporation

Meiko Kaji headlined her first ongoing series with this group of five girl-gang biker films, made during Nikkatsu Studio’s heyday of “New Action” films, which amped up the sex and violence while addressing contemporary social issues from a distinctly left-wing point of view. Sex Hunter is the third (and best) entry in the series, and stars Kaji as the leader of the Alleycats and girlfriend to the morose, possibly impotent Baron (Tatsuya Fuji), who leads a biker gang of his own in attacks on mixed-race kids around the US military base in Yokosuka. Co-starring burly, half-Italian actor Rikiya Yasuoka (Tampopo) as tough outsider Azuma, his not-quite-consummated romance with Kaji burns up the screen as their increasingly violent brawls with Baron’s gang, as well as the local yakuza, pile up the casualties on both sides.

 

 

Blind Woman’s Curse (Kaidan Nobori Ryu)

Sunday, February 12 at 4:30 PM

1970, 85 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Teruo Ishii. With Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Sato.

 

Blind Woman's Curse © 1970 Nikkatsu Corporation

Although she began her acting career at Nikkatsu under her real name, Masako Ota became Meiko Kaji on the advice of her mentor Masahiro Makino, and this phantasmagoric female swordplay saga—the best period film Kaji made at Nikkatsu—was her first starring role under her new, tougher name. The third and final entry in the Rising Dragon series of female gambler films that starred Hiroko Ogi, Blind Woman’s Curse dispenses not only with the original character but also Ogi herself, instead casting Kaji as the benevolent, tattooed leader of a band of yakuza. Kaji and her gang become targets of supernatural vengeance after she blinds another swordswoman in a duel, and genre master Teruo Ishii adds his signature erotic-grotesque elements to the story, which may be the best female swordplay-cum-ghost cat horror film Japan ever produced!

 

 

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (Joshu Sasori Kemono Beya)

Sunday, February 12 at 7 PM

1973, 97 min., Blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Shunya Ito. With Meiko Kaji, Mikio Narita, Reisen Lee.

 

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable © 1973 Toei Co., Ltd.

Perhaps Meiko Kaji’s most iconic role, Nami “Scorpion” Matsushima was created by Toru Shinohara for an adult manga, and has been the subject of many remakes, but Kaji will always remain the original and the best. The third film in the series, and last by original director Shunya ItoBeast Stable is the most horror-tinged entry, and arguably the most violent. Nami, having escaped from prison in episode #2, befriends a lonely sex worker and incurs the wrath of a yakuza gang led by a former nemesis, the sadistic and power-mad Katsu—a grand guignol creation clad in black feathers who has sworn vengeance on Scorpion.

 

 

Marc Walkow has worked in the film and video industry for 25 years, and brought a variety of Japanese genre films, such as Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, to the attention of foreign audiences. He writes about Japanese film, works as a translator and programmer, and produces Blu-ray special editions for Arrow Video and The Criterion Collection.

 

“Cruel Beauty: A Romantic Weekend with Meiko Kaji” Feb 10 – Feb 12

Japan Society