Thursday, 5 March 2015



It's really nice, once in a while, to get a film through the post you've never heard of, never seen a frame of, never even come across in a reference book. That's how the 1970 film Blind Woman's Curse (aka The Tattooed Swordswoman) caught me completely by surprise, so I was able to see it with absolutely no preconceptions and no baggage. Opening the envelope, it could be absolutely anything.

In the event, it's a highly enjoyable Japanese period mashup of horror, swordplay, knockabout comedy, melodrama and outright strangeness, a mixture that works much better than you might expect. Leader of the Tachibana gang Akemi (Meiko Kaji, future cult star of the Female Scorpion series) leads an attack on a rival clan which not only leaves many people dead but crucially one woman blinded. Years later, the Tachibana clan is under threat not just from a mysterious assassin and a demented hunchback, but from a turf war with another group organised by a third gang seeking to wipe both rivals out and take over the territory completely. To start with, the newly released Akemi doesn't want to get involved, but eventually she has little choice....

Some of this is broadly comedic: one of the gang leaders has terrible personal hygiene and doesn't wear any trousers, preferring the loincloth for no immediately obvious reason except laughs. Some of it is viscerally bloody: the skin with the Tachibana's dragon tattoos is ripped off their dead bodies. And some scenes are just visually gorgeous, such as the opening title sequence: a gang fight shot in driving rain with excessive Shogun Assassin arcs of spurting blood. In fact the whole movie is terrific to look at, a marked contrast to the ungraded digital murk of today. One curiosity is the one-frame appearance of a narrow band of colour at the bottom of the image, which looks to be the top of the next frame of film, every time there's a cut. If that sounds like a distraction, it isn't: rather, it just reminds you once more that you're watching what was once celluloid film, and not an mp3 file.

If the climax, in which Akemi and the mysterious assassin finally face off against each other, proves a disappointing resolution, it scarcely matters with so much other incident going on. There's also the occasional appearance of a black cat (which may or may not be supernatural), some slapstick with a severed head, torture by drowning, moderate nudity, knife-throwing and sentimental romance. Blind Woman's Curse is a mixture of pretty much anything and everything, and somehow it works: it's fast, funny, violent and, at a mere 85 minutes it's never close to boring. I enjoyed it a lot.


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