Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Synapse Films

After taking a short break to jump start the FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION series, Meiko Kaji stepped back into the role of Nami, The Red Cherry Blossom, with WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY 2: SHE-CAT GAMBLER, bringing with her rising action star Sonny Chiba to clean up the mean streets of Ginza. Keeping with audience expectations, SHE-CAT GAMBLER doesn’t stray far from the formula established in the first film, applying health doses of violence and vengeance all distributed by the deadly hands and mesmerizing eyes of Meiko Kaji.

As a means of settling his gambling debt, Senzo (Junzaburo Ban, SNAKE WOMAN'S CURSE) hands over his daughter Hanae to a gang of Yakuza, who plan on forcing the young girl into a life of prostitution in order to recoup their losses. Fate however shines down on Hanae in the form of Nami (Meiko Kaji, LADY SNOWBLOOD), a wandering gambler who intervenes in the group's afternoon excursion, allowing Hanae enough time to make her escape. Such action instantly puts Nami on the Yakuza’s radar, but given her intentions, such repercussions are welcome and necessary. As a young girl, Nami was witness to her father’s murder during a card game. Seeking vengeance, Nami wanders the streets and alleyways of Tokyo, honing her skills as a gambler while searching for Hoshiden, the man responsible for her father’s untimely demise. Upon her arrival in Ginza, Nami takes a job as a hostess at Blue Star, a club run by her old friend Miyoko (Yukie Kagawa, DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS: WORTHLESS TO CONFESS). Immersing herself into the night life of Ginza, Nami begins to frequent late night card games in hopes of spotting Hoshiden, inevitably catching the eye of the Yakuza she had earlier taught a lesson. Brought in front of their boss Mr. Aiboshi, Nami is offered a position as a dealer, one which she hesitates to take considering her recently having befriended Ryu (Sonny Chiba, KILL BILL: Vol. 1), a rival to Aiboshi’s call girl business. Not one to let anything or anyone stand in his way, Aiboshi begins to put the squeeze on Nami and Ryu, unaware of the backlash he will have to endure once Nami discovers his true identity.

While enjoyable on its own, WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY 2: SHE-CAT GAMBLER (Gincho nagaremono mesuneko bakuchi) doesn't quite deliver the same punch as its predecessor, even with the addition of Sonny Chiba. The noticeable increase in comedic relief and musical breaks, which are all fine and good, feel like padding that adds a cool, kitschy sense of the 1970s but does little to move the plot forward. Violence and sex are also amped up, but if given the choice I would have to go with the first BUTTERFLY film as it feels tighter and as such, a stronger narrative. While labeled as such, the picture comes across as a sequel more so in spirit than as a continuation of events. Character names and locations have been recycled from the first film, as has the revenge motif, but otherwise the two films stand alone and can be enjoyed for their own merits.

To be honest with myself, one of the reason I may prefer the first BUTTERFLY film to the second is Meiko Kaji's wardrobe. I much prefer her in tight jeans and a long coat as opposed to the traditional kimono she wears for the majority of SHE-CAT GAMBLER. Regardless of her outfit, Meiko Kaji is always beguiling and a treasure to watch, but does display a much more calculated drive in her vengeance than compared to the first, but then she didn’t have Sonny Chiba backing her up either. SHE-CAT GAMBLER marked the beginning of a prosperous relationship between director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi and action star Chiba, as both men would later collaborate on a succession of successful karate pictures including KARATE BULL FIGHTER, KARATE BEAR FIGHTER, KARATE WARRIORS and KARATE FOR LIFE. As entrepreneur Ryuji, Sonny is utilized mainly for comedic effect, only being allowed to display his physical talents in the film's final, blood-spattered confrontation. Stammering through his dialogue, Chiba presents a noticeably less imposing figure than fans are probably use to, but such character flaws were a choice that according Yamaguchi, who is featured in an on-camera interview found on this release's special features, was of the actor's own design. At the time Chiba was not known for being the strongest actor in terms of drama, he was however deeply dedicated to his craft, making the most of his shortcomings. What is left on screen is a likable fellow, but one who doesn’t seem to come into his own until the film's final minutes, which is to say he’s fun to watch but really should have been allowed to kick more ass.

Synapse presents SHE-CAT GAMBLER with a brand new, fully restored, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer mastered in high-definition from Toei’s original vault elements. Clocking in at just under 86 minutes, SHE-CAT GAMBLER looks every bit as impressive as its precursor, with rich coloring and striking detail. Flesh tones appear accurate and there is hardly a blemish to be found. Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio provides justice to the film's original Japanese language track and is accompanied by newly-translated, removable English subtitles. There is really nothing to complain about here, only praise as Synapse continues to impress, setting the bar a little bit higher with each subsequent release.

Extras include the aforementioned video interview with Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, a captivating look back at the director’s career. Yamaguchi details his tenure at Toei as well as how his time working as a chauffeur for hostess in Ginza, while attending college, help to inspire the BUTTERFLY films. Theatrical trailers for WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY and WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY 2: SHE-CAT GAMBLER, both with optional English subtitles, as well as a poster gallery, biography and selected filmography for Meiko Kaji, cover the actress' most notable roles and films and can also be found on the Synapse release of WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY. Exclusive to this release is a video interview with Pinky Violence film expert J-Taro Sugisaku. Running just over 10 minutes, Sugisaku displays an obvious love for Meiko, providing several anecdotes on the actress and how she is received both at home and abroad. Packaging for WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY 2: SHE-CAT GAMBLER is of special note as it comes with a reversible cover with the film's original Japanese poster on one side and what is without questions one of the most attractive covers in DVD history on the other! (Jason McElreath)