Color, 1970, 85m.
Directed by Teruo Ishii
Starring Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satô, Hideo Sunazuka, Tatsumi Hijikata
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC, UK R0 HD/PAL), Disotek (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Fans of outlandish Japanese cinema need no introduction to Teruo Ishii, the cinematic madman who gave the world Horrors of Malformed Men and such perverse offerings as Female Yakuza Tale, Orgies of Edo and Shogun's Joy of Torture. Sandwiched in the middle of all that lunacy was this striking blend of swordplay and gothic horror, also released as Black Cat's Revenge and The Tattooed Swordsman, which also served as an early starring vehicle for the stoic, imposing, and gorgeous Meiko Kaji right on the cusp of her five-film stint in the Stray Cat Rock series. Of course, within three years she would move on to her two most famous roles in the Female Convict Scorpion and Lady Snowblood films, and the rest is history.
In a rain-spattered, action-packed opening, the tattooed Akemi (Kaji) has inherited yakuza authority from her father and leads her dragon-inked gang in a vicious sword fight against a rival mob. In the process her opponent's sister (Tokuda) is blinded by a single swipe of the sword, with a nearby black cat showing up to lap away the blood and impose the title curse against Akemi and her men. Three years later, Akemi's out from the slammer and contended with a new gang trying to move in on her turf. Aiding them is a new theater troupe including a mysterious blind woman with a certain grudge, a black cat, and a dancing hunchback (Hijikata), which gives Ishii the opportunity to indulge in a number of grotesqueries involving severed heads and outlandish colorful lighting. Soon members of Akemi's clan are turning up dead with their dragon tattoos flayed from their bodies, setting the stage for a final stylized showdown.
The opening minutes of Blind Woman's Curse are certainly eventful but give little indication of the madness to come in its most frenzied moments, with the film often tossing in crazed elements like a bevy of nude woman writhing and freaking out under a giant pink sheet for no good reason other than the fact that it looks amazing. The aesthetic also becomes more and more fantastic as the film progresses, with the climax taking place in front of a deliberately artificial backdrop of swirling clouds that catapults it into full-on horrific fantasy territory. The blood flow is pretty copious throughout as well with lots of spraying and slashing, and Kaji makes for a compelling presence even if she hadn't quite refined that steely sex appeal that became overwhelming in her later, better known roles. As usual, she even gets a chance to croon a song over the ending, too.
Though currently unavailable on DVD in its native country, Blind Woman's Curse has had a surprisingly healthy video life in English-speaking territories with a decent-looking DVD from Disotek popping up in 2006 complete with a fact-filled audio commentary by Chris D., formerly of the American Cinematheque. In 2014, Arrow Films released a combo Blu-ray/DVD edition in the UK complete with a new HD transfer and a newly-commissioned audio commentary by Asian film expert Jasper Sharp (whose liner notes have graced many a Japanese exploitation title), which does a good job of untangling the numerous genre influences here and referring to the cinematic and cultural references that might fly by many viewers completely. Also included are the theatrical trailer, bonus ones for the Stray Cat Rock series (also on the Arrow imprint), and liner notes by Tom Mes.
In 2015, the film was selected as one of Arrow's initial releases in its expansion to the United States, and superficially the release appears to be identical in terms of menus, extras, and overall presentation. However, the transfer appears to have been adjusted here to bring the black levels down to standard levels instead of the lighter ones seen on the UK release, which were more reflective of those seen on Japanese home video releases (where the country's TVs are calibrated differently). The American transfer, which also features different subtitle placement, is clearly from the same source in terms of very minor print damage, but the result looks more impressive with a bit of an uptick in color saturation and image depth as a result of the black level fix. Definitely a nice way for Arrow to break into the American market, earning a hearty recommendation for fans of the madder fringes of Japanese cinema or drawn in by the can't-miss combination of bloody horror, unabashed kink, and sword-swinging action.