BLIND WOMAN'S CURSE (1970) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Teruo Ishii
Arrow Video USA

Arrow Video USA casts the BLIND WOMAN'S CURSE with this oddball Nikkatsu release on Region A/B Blu-ray/DVD combo.

When Akemi (Meiko Kaji of the LADY SNOWBLOOD and FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION series) becomes the head of the Tachibana clan, she seeks vengeance for the death of her father by rival gang leader Goda. Amidst the bloody fray, she accidentally blinds Goda's sister Aiko (Hoki Tokuda, aka Mrs. Henry Miller) in the act of killing him and a cat laps up the blood of her wounds. Since then, Akemi has suffered from nightmares and has come to believe that she is cursed by a cat than means to suck her blood. Resuming her position of leadership after a three-year prison sentence, Akemi will defend her territory and her gang but resists launching an offensive on flatulent rival Aozora (Ryôhei Uchida, GANGSTER COP) – who sports a bowler hat and waistcoat above and a thong below – in keeping with her promise to go straight. Her stance meets with the approval of family friend Jutaro (Yoshi Katô, THE CASTLE OF SAND) but not his nephew and her right hand man Tatsu (Shirô Ôtsuji, SAMURAI ASSASSIN) who is plotting with gang leader Dobashi (Tôru Abe, SHOGUN) to get rid of both gangs. When members of her gang start turning up dead and flayed of their snake tattoo (often in the proximity of a mysterious black cat), Akemi may have to take up the sword once more. Fortunately, she has additional help from her old cellmates as well as a reformed gangster/wandering swordsman Tani (Makoto Satô, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS). A blind swordswoman – accompanied by creepy hunchbacked dancer (Tatsumi Hijikata, HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN) and a black cat – has offered up her deadly services to Dobashi, but it seems as if she is more interested in cutting down anyone who gets in between her and a climactic confrontation with Akemi.

A rare horror outing from Nikkatsu, and an even rarer hybrid of Yakuza films and the horror genre (Kazuo Komizu's ENTRAILS OF A BEAUTY may be the only other), BLIND WOMAN'S CURSE – also known variously as THE TATTOOED SWORDSWOMAN, BLACK CAT'S REVENGE, or THE HAUNTED LIFE OF THE TATTOOED LASS – is not quite as nutty as HAUSU in the comic horror sweepstakes, but it is a wacky viewing experience that veers between bloody, splattery action, gothic horror, and comic relief. Director Teruo Ishii – known in Japan as "The King of Cult" with many oddities among his ninety-plus films including titles like BLIND BEAST VS. DWARF, THE HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN, and NUDE ACTRESS MURDER CASE in a career that spanned from late fifties to the late nineties – stuffs in foot fetishes, opium smuggling, possession, bestiality, a freak show "Theatre of the Absurd" lit like a BLOOD AND BLACK LACE set, musical interludes of romantic longing, a love triangle between Tani, Jutaro's daughter Chie (Yôko Takagi), and Tatsu, as well as more antics from the hunchback amidst the usual gang intrigues. As usual, Kaji is stunning both at her most demure and as a badass swordfighter (particularly during the climactic showdown).

Previously released on DVD in 2007 by Discotek Media in a darkish, interlaced, anamorphic 2.39:1 transfer with an informative audio commentary by the American Cinematheque's Chris D., the film got a nice overhaul in the UK from Arrow Video last March with a Blu-ray/DVD combo featuring a newer MPEG-4 AVC 2.44:1 widescreen transfer with an audio commentary by Midnight Eye's Jasper Sharp. This year, Arrow branched out to the USA starting with a Region A/B combo of MARK OF THE DEVIL. Since the UK combo of BLIND WOMAN'S CURSE was coded for Region B, their US version required a few small changes like changing the region; however, it has also been given a new encode with deeper shadows and slightly bolder colors (probably negligible on some displays but preferable) and an LPCM 1.0 track rather than the 2.0 dual mono on the UK.

The extras are the same with the film's theatrical trailer (3:20) and the Jasper Sharp audio commentary, starting off with a direct translation of the title GHOST STORY: RISING DRAGON as well as the iconic Kaji's cinematic career – as well as Tokuda who divorced Henry Miller in 1980 and opened a bar called "Tropic of Cancer", and Hijikata's controversial underground performance art – and the "ghost cat" (bakeneko) tradition in Japanese horror cinema (as well as Nikkatsu's move towards "Roman Porno" in the seventies). He makes a guess at the unspecified time period and the clash of Eastern tradition and Western popular culture on display, as well as how that merging contributed to a strain of fantastic Japanese literature typified by the work of pulp author Edogawa Rampo (who Ishii had adapted with THE HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN). The liner notes booklet has not been supplied for review but it is presumably the same as the one on the UK release. That the disc also carries over the trailers for the STRAY CAT ROCK series suggests they may be up for US release from Arrow as well (hopefully, as only SEX HUNTER seems to have been released over here). (Eric Cotenas)