Happy Birthday to Meiko Kaji, Glamorous Icon of Japanese Ultraviolence

Meiko Kaji, the Japanese screen star and singer, was born on this date in 1947. Her film career began with bit parts in Yakuza films for Nikkatsu Studios. There the outlaw provocateur director Teruo Ishii met her and cast her in the lead role of a film that would in many ways foretell the heady mix of violence and elegance that she became identified with. BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE (1970) is very bloody, super strange and it contains a stylized duel in a beautifully artificial studio setting. Kaji also sang the theme ballad for the film, and it became her first record release of many.

Here’s the trailer for BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE. Warning: the video clips posted in this article are seriously violent and not for everyone.

 

Next, Kaji was cast as the second banana to pop singer Akiko Wada in the wonderfully titled STRAY CAT ROCK: DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS, a teenage gang movie that crammed every possible exploitation element into the mix. Though Wada was the star of the film, audiences responded best to Kaji and she became the lead in the remaining entries in the STRAY CAT ROCK series.

Here’s the trailer for the fourth installment of that series: STRAY CAT ROCK: MACHINE ANIMAL, in which Kaji’s proto-goth persona feels a little strange against the backdrop of roaring motorcycles and LSD.

 

Then, Kaji jumped to a new studio, Toei, and teamed up with director Shunya Ito for the extraordinarily strange women-in-prison-based FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION series. Here, Kaji’s gothic tendencies were given free rein, especially in the astonishing second chapter FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41. She plays an action hero, but the film has some unexpected supernatural touches as well, and is imbued with what appears to be a leftist political message. Watch the trailer, but be warned: it’s VERY strong stuff.

 

That was Kaji singing the dirge-like ballad again, of course. After this series had run its course, she played the lead in a few Yakuza films for Toei and then made the leap to the big leagues. Toho Studios cast her as the lead in a film that would define her legacy as much as any of the above films. LADY SNOWBLOOD was, like the SCORPION series, an adaptation of a popular manga series. It also gave Kaji a chance to truly showcase all of her best attributes, her elegance, her ghostly distance and her graceful way with a blade. She has appeared in more movies since LADY SNOWBLOOD and its sequel, but these films would be the capper to this particular part of Kaji’s iconic career as one of the most imposing and dynamic screen presences we have yet seen.

Here’s the LADY SNOWBLOOD trailer:

 

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