Review: Okatsu the Fugitive (1969)

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They say the third time’s the charm.  Some think this phrase originated with Shakespeare, although that’s uncertain.  What is certain is that Okatsu the Fugitive, the third movie in the Tales of the Poisonous Seductress series, could have used some Shakespearean talent in the script department.  It’s a very good looking film, but the fact that it’s essentially a retread of the same story told in the first two movies in the series makes the phrase “been there, done that,” more apropos.

Once again, the beautiful Junko Miyazono stars as a swordswoman named Okatsu, although she isn’t the same character named Okatsu who she played in the previous film.  Confused?  Me too.  I don’t get it.  I even wonder if the normally accepting Japanese audience of 1969 got it.  Perhaps this odd choice contributed to the demise of the Toei studios series.

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Once again, a young woman’s family is tortured and killed in front of her and she vows revenge.  That was a hell of a lot of fun the first time around, and in some ways perfected for the second film.  Here, it just feels like a half-assed retread.  Still, I think this movie would be a lot more fun if I hadn’t recently seen the other two.  It isn’t terrible.  It just doesn’t break any new ground.

Director Nobuo Nakagawa is back and this time around he stages and shoots scenes much more conservatively than in the second film.  That works wonders for the fight scenes because they retain a lucidity that more ambitious camera work would have destroyed.  Nakagawa really works wonders with the close-quarters sword fights.  I also liked the exterior shots that were actually played on location.  They open up the film by removing it from the typical stage-bound locations and really lets all of the scenes breathe.

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Miyazono gives a serviceable performance but I felt like even she was tiring of the same old shtick.  Many of her co-stars get short shrift here, including one of my favorites, actress Reiko Ohshida.  She appears onscreen late in the film and disappears with no explanation only to return briefly at the end.

That’s really why the film fails.  Plot points happen with little or no explanation.  The revenge plot never gains critical mass and I never felt like cheering for Okatsu.  Plot holes are rampant, but that’s true for a lot of top-notch, chambara films.  The problem here is that there’s nothing to distract you from them.

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The music certainly doesn’t help.  Composer Koichi Kawabe, who did such wonderful work on the second picture, phones it in this time.  Music cues are overwrought and just vamp away in the background, over and over.  I think he must have created three dumpy, obnoxious cues for the entire film and they were just cut in wherever Nakagawa needed music.  “A, B, or C this time, boss?”

If you like the other two pictures, I’d suggest taking some time off before watching this one.  If I had done that, I think I’d have enjoyed this one a lot more.  Not recommended.

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