Review: Blind Woman’s Curse (1970)

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The seventies weren’t kind to the Japanese film studios.  Television had made tremendous inroads in Japan and people just weren’t going to the movies like they once had.  Even venerable franchises like Zatoichi moved to television, and many of the large film studios closed their doors forever.  Blind Woman’s Curse was produced by Nikkatsu, a studio which I must admit that I’ve never paid much attention to.  It was a transitional film, bridging the gap between their more respected work and their so-called “Roman porno” films of the 70s.

If BWC was the best they could do at the time, I can see why they ditched their mainstream product.  While there are a lot of very nice moments in this film, the story as a whole simply doesn’t work.  The plot is a convoluted mess where characters switch sides at random and a smattering of goofball horror elements and slapstick comedy are thrown in for good measure.  The visuals are great, but in the end they weren’t enough to save this feature from its own desire to be all things to all people.

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The story is difficult to summarize.  We begin with credits over a battle between two rival clans in a rain storm.  In the battle, we establish the sword prowess of Akemi Tachibana, played by the beautiful Meiko Kaji.  The battle ends with a mishap that leaves an innocent girl wounded.  We then jump forward ten years or so and into even more clan trouble for Tachibana.  There are a myriad of threats that pile up and criss-cross with very little connecting them.  Side characters threaten to overpopulate this feature but only because the core story is left to languish.

Eventually, blind woman Aiko Gouda (Hoki Tokuda) shows up and proves to be amazingly good with a sword.  She could have been Zatoichi’s twin sister except for the fact that she lacks his congenial nature.  She’s dour and her motivations are difficult to understand throughout.  She fights on one side and then the other until we get the final battle we’ve expected between the two women.

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BWC plays like an attempt at a new franchise.  I can just imagine the pitch.  “Hey, if a blind man with a sword is cool, wouldn’t a blind woman be even better?”  Alas, no.  BWC fails because it doesn’t focus enough of its screen time on the so-called main characters.  The central spine of the movie has a bad case of scoliosis due to a conceit that requires a key bit of information be kept hidden up until the very end.

I think there’s a great movie in here.  All it would take is some judicious editing to get to it.  I didn’t much care for the principals but some of the smaller performances were absolutely fantastic.  Makoto Sato really shines as do his costars Yoshi Kato, Toru Abe, and the cute as a button Yoko Takagi.  It’s too bad they’re all hindered by such a meandering screenplay.

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Cinematographer Shigeru Kitaizumi should be praised for his attempt to create lucid visuals out of this muck.  Many scenes are shot through partitions to bring particular line qualities to the shots.  He also uses this device to imply that many of the characters are trapped.  It’s effective, as are most of his choices, but it isn’t enough to salvage the poor story.

Blind Woman’s curse has a lot going for it technically.  If it truly focused on its core story, it might be worthwhile.  As it is, it’s merely a curiosity and a historical document of the end of an era at Nikkatsu.  Not recommended.