An erotic/pop/samurai/horror/action/musical, the story involves Akemi Tachibana (superstar Meiko Kaji - in one of her earliest roles, yet given a customarily supercool intro), beautiful young leader of a yakuza gang. Swords clash and the rain runs red with blood over the exciting opening credits. Akemi and her samurai battle a rival gang in poetic slow-motion, until she accidentally wounds their boss’ innocent sister with a sword-slash across the eyes. An eerie, black cat leaps from nowhere and laps the blood, following Akemi through her three years in jail - a brief detour into the Women-In-Prison genre - as a supernatural harbinger of death.
Returning home, Akemi dutifully takes charge of her late father’s gang, but must contend with the Dobashi gang (led by regular bad guy Toru Abe) and a treacherous Tachibana member out to frame them for drug-trafficking. Handsome wanderer, Tani Shouichi (Makoto Sato) lends a helping hand (“I’m the type of guy who can’t sit still when I see injustice”) and finds love with plucky restaurateur’s daughter Chie (Yoko Takagi). The real trouble starts when a mysterious blind swordswoman, out for revenge, throws in her lot with the Dobashi gang and suddenly, Akemi’s girlfriends start turning up dead - their bodies mutilated and stripped of skin. But the culprit isn’t the blind witch, but a crazy hunchback (Tatsumi Hijikata) skulking on the sidelines, while the black cat keeps watching.
“Ero-gro”, or erotic grotesque is a literary genre that flourished in Japan thanks to prolific mystery author, Edogawa Rampo. Rampo’s simultaneously unsettling and sensual world inspired cinema classics like The Watcher in the Attic (1976) and Rampo Noir (2005), and was a major artistic influence for Teruo Ishii. Prior to his death, he reinvented himself into an art house hero a la David Lynch, but here tries to accommodate his surrealist whims with the demands of being a Nikkatsu studio director. Subsequently, the movie wavers from heart-warming to horror, softcore sexy to goofy comedy, samurai action to brutally graphic torture scenes - sometimes all at once! Far from a stand-alone title, Blind Woman’s Curse (also known as Black Cat’s Revenge) was third in a series of films that originally starred actress Hiroko Ogi, although it’s unlikely they were as weird.
Crazy and nonsensical it may be, but the movie is never less than compelling. Ishii takes us on a memorable freak show tour with cannibal ghouls, sexy mutants and half-eaten children, while Butoh dance troupe founder Tatsumi Hijikata is genuinely creepy (if impossible to fathom) as the unhinged hunchback. Garish comic book colours enhance the most frightening set-piece, in which comic relief Kantaro (Hideo Sunazuka) stumbles into a haunted house full of cobwebbed skeletons and severed heads, where the hunchback suddenly pounces and tries to gnaw his face off. The hunchback dances maniacally around his psychedelic tinfoil-covered lair before sating the blind swordswoman with oral sex. Its memorably twisted stuff, although both characters waver from serial killers to tragic heroes with irritating inconsistency.
Equally disappointing is Akemi’s tendency to disappear for long stretches of action. Tani and Chie do most of the detective work, while she frets from the sidelines. Akemi’s final face-off against the blind witch, amidst a phantasmagorical painted backdrop, is expertly choreographed and poetic, if somewhat brief. Nevertheless, the characters played by Kaji, Sato and Takagi are among the most likeable in any samurai-horror movie. Between gory and sleazy scenes, Ishii plays up the warm, familial bonds between Akemi and her gang, and even flirts with the ever-popular sexy schoolgirl genre. It is Akemi’s pack of foxy delinquent girls in candy-coloured mini-kimonos who survive to storm the Dobashi hideout, with its trapdoors and torture dungeons. As if that weren’t enough, this is also a musical, with Meiko Kaji crooning several lilting numbers to ensure that, while an uneven experience, this remains a tasty treat.