I usually start my review by going through the film and picking out the shots I want to feature. I can always tell how much I liked a movie by how many images I capture. The more I grab, the more memorable moments there are in the feature. When I was done going through Legends of the Poisonous Seductress 2: Quick Draw Okatsu, I grabbed 23 images – way more than the five or six I’ll be able to squeeze in here.
The second film in the Poisonous Seductress series has little in common with the first, except for its star, the lovely Junko Miyazono, and its writer, Koji Takada. The theme of a woman exacting revenge against heinous forces of evil is still here, but Miyazono plays a completely different character this time around. This sort of anthology series is unheard of in the west, and I’ve had a little bit of trouble wrapping my mind around the concept. My first experience with this kind of marketing (and that’s really all it was) was the Shinobi No Mono series wherein Raizo Ichikawa played various ninja across the course of the series. The poisonous seductress series only spans three films, but in each one Miyazono plays a different character. Never mind that the second and third films have protagonists with the same name! WHAT? Never mind. I’m reviewing these as separate features, not as parts of a trilogy.
Quick-Draw is about a woman who was adopted by a widower who runs a local dojo. Her “brother” Rintaro sucks at swordplay and only wants to run off with his girlfriend, a fact which embarrasses her father. She’s an ace with a blade but since she’s a woman, her skills aren’t as important to the family’s pride as Rintaro’s.
A local magistrate has his evil eyes set on Okatsu and he goes about getting her through any means necessary. Rintaro is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Okatsu is raped, and her father is tortured and killed. When she finally gets free, Okatsu, with the help of Rui, the cutest ninja girl you’ll ever see, slashes her way to vengeance!
Okay, there’s quite a bit of hyperbole there, but you get the idea. This movie is a hell of a lot of fun! It has beautiful women, good fights, and top notch performances. While the screenplay certainly isn’t unique, it gets high marks for keeping the story on the fast track. You’ll find no fat here. Director Nobuo Nakagawa keeps most of his crazy tricks in the bag where they belong and delivers a tautly paced actioner that would please most any viewer. His one conceit is his use of a two-story brothel set in a long, wide shot. The action moves in and out of rooms, upstairs and down, without the camera ever moving. It’s an interesting gimmick but I’m glad he kept it to a single sequence.
Junko Miyazono shines as the titular heroine and Reiko Oshida nearly upstages her as the ninja fighter from the wild. There’s also another guest appearance by Tomisaburo Wakayama–this time as a wandering bounty hunter who also showed up in his own film series and TV show called Shokin Kasegi.
Of particular note is the marvelous score by Koichi Kawabe. He balances a western-style score with Japanese elements in such a way as to never let one overpower the other. Lots of Japanese composers could learn a thing or two from the success of this score. The engaging koto duet that’s performed on camera is especially good.
I can’t explain why this film (and its predecessor) work so well when so many movies made with similar formulas during the same period seem to fall flat when viewed today. Perhaps its due to the fact that the restrictions placed on filmmakers were loosening up and we finally got to see truly heinous acts from the bad guys. Perhaps it’s the carefully balanced combination of eastern and western elements in a stew that simmers just so. Or maybe it’s the charm of the outstanding cast. Whatever the reason, this is one jidaigeki film that shouldn’t be missed. Highly recommended.