Posts Tagged ‘Meiko Kaji’

Movie Reviews 425 – Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler (1972)

February 21, 2020

There is a lot going on in Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler besides the mouthful for a title.

All I knew when I picked up this DVD was that it starred Sonny Chiba which was enough for me to give it a whirl. Little did I know that not only was this not your typical Chiba fight fest, but that I would be seduced by the charms of Meiko Kaji a starlet previously unknown to me yet celebrated and well established, perhaps rivaling the Sister Street Fighter herself, Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi. As it turns out that comparison turned out to be eerily prophetic with more substance than I could have imagined. But more on that later…

I confess that I never saw the original Wandering Ginza Butterfly, but I can dispel the notion that you must see that beforehand in order to enjoy this sequel. While the plot is an offshoot from that film, the story is self contained enough to understand and there are plenty of flashback scenes to put it all into context.

Nami Higuchi (Kaji), orphaned when her father died while she was a still young girl and now a professional gambler, has been searching for her father’s killer. Coincidentally she comes to the aid of a young woman, Hanae (Tamase Mitsukawa), who was sold to a mob ruled Ginza social club for prostitution by her own debt ridden gambler of a father. As luck would have it, Nami bumps into her childhood best friend Mioko (Yukie Kagawa) who is also running a social club and gladly offers to help out and hire Hanae herself. But unknown to Nami, Mioko has taken a different path in life and is now working for a mob boss, and Hanae soon finds herself in the exact situation that Nami tried to save her from. Worse yet, this boss is the very one Nami is seeking.

As I mentioned, this is not so much a martial arts film as a more dramatic action film. The story is multi-layered with a number of interesting characters which all mesh together nicely as the story progresses. While Nami is relatively stoic (apparently a trait common in many of Kaji’s roles), Chiba, playing a stutter prone, carefree gambler (uncharacteristic of his usual intense portrayals) balances things out nicely. There are plenty of other enjoyable characters including a gambler that was tasked to cheat Nami but who ends up looking to her to be his mentor. Another is Chiba’s ever smoking partner who also tries to help out and at one point the two men, having rescued all the girls, attempt to give them etiquette lessons including how to use a bidet.

Be forewarned that the first few minutes of the film has plenty of boobs and for a moment I thought that this was going to be one of those Pinky films as this is indeed a Toei studio production, renown for that subgenre. What there is plenty of is gambling. Unfortunately I could not understand anything about the Mahjong tile game in which players also hide a tile under a mat. But it was clear who was winning, who was losing, and who was cheating (which was often the case).

Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill will immediately connect with many aspects aside from the obvious Sonny “Hattori Hanzo” Chiba. Digging into Kaji’s career I was delighted to learn that she was the singer of the “The Flower of Carnage” song on the Kill Bill soundtrack (taken from another one of her films (Lady Snowblood). While the final battle is not as army sized as Uma’s Bride restaurant free for all, there are some similarities including gratuitous amounts of spurting blood, as was a late-night garden battle.

Chiba only brawls during the final battle and using subdued moves compared to his later films moves at that. This is not a film that wows audiences looking for martial arts prowess. But don’t let that deter you from watching it unless that is all you are looking for.

My Synapse Films DVD features an interview with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi who not only directed the Wandering Ginza Butterfly films but was also the director of the Sister Street Fighter franchise and, not surprisingly, a number of Pinky films, although the latter aren’t discussed in the interview.

I will be keeping an eye out for that first Wandering Ginza Butterfly and other Meiko Kaji films to remedy tardiness and delinquency in recognizing this jewel.