Wandering Ginza Butterfly (1971): Japan – directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Not rated by the MPAA – contains sexual references and some bloody violence
This is the first time this film has been released on DVD and I am quite excited. It’s one of the many movies that the Toei Company made in the early 1970’s about the Yakuza and various gangster activities in Tokyo.
It features Meiko Kaji, the star of numerous franchises during the 1970’s. She was not only Lady Snowblood before Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino came along, she was also in Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter and other films from that franchise, and she was Prisoner 701 in the Joshuu series. Not to mention the various Kinji Fukasaku films she starred in.
And now the folks at Synapse Films recently put together this transfer and presented us with another one of Meiko’s films. Be careful going into it, though, because if you’re expecting something like Yakuza Deka [reviewed here] (with Sonny Chiba, who starred in Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2 with Meiko) you might be disappointed. This is a Yakuza film, to be sure, but it’s more of a drama than an action or gangster movie.
Meiko is Nami and is again in prison. Same name, same story as the Joshuu films, but no matter. This time she’s just been released after three years hard time. She heads back to Tokyo to meet up with her uncle, who owns a billiard hall and taught her how to hustle pool.
She gets involved with a local semi-gangster, Ryuji, who hooks the various sex clubs up with hostesses. Since she’s rather attractive (and tough) she soon becomes one of the best hostesses around: pretty enough to attract clientele and mean enough to make sure they pay.
But of course the Owada clan is muscling in on the Ginza neighborhood, and soon the club’s owner finds she is being bullied into selling the club to Owada or forfeiting it outright. This is when Nami gets a chance to pay back the kindness shown to her by Ryuji and the club’s Madam.
There is quite a bit going on in the story, including several side plots having to do with Nami’s past and how she ended up in prison. The first 75 minutes of the film are almost solely concerned with these flashbacks and her current hostessing. This is not a bad thing, but if you’re expecting geysers of blood at every turn you might become slightly bored.
Then, in the final ten minutes, the film erupts in an orgy of violence. It’s almost like the recent films of Takeshi Kitano, where everything is calm and peaceful before exploding in brief and brutal violence. The main difference is that here the small amount of violence follows the same style as Lady Snowblood, with the slashing and stabbing. In addition to the violence, one might also expect a fair amount of sex and nudity, much like Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. However, almost all the nudity is discreet and only present in pinup posters on a wall.
From a production standpoint, Wandering Ginza Butterfly is very similar to other Japanese gangster films from the same time period. There are moments of stylish directing, such as the camera that searches the background until it finds the one person it wants to portray. Other than that everything merely exists to push the story along. Kaji has the physical presence and beauty to convincingly play Nami, and the other actors also turn in fine performances.
From a DVD standpoint the transfer is very well done. The Japanese mono soundtrack is present with optional English subtitles, and the picture is very clear and crisp, especially for an older foreign film.
This is definitely worth catching, especially for those hardcore fans of Meiko Kaji. Keep in mind, however, that it’s not one of your standard pinky violence flicks; here the blood and nudity are kept fairly well under wraps. Regardless, it’s short, sweet and climaxes with a payoff worthy of any fan of the genre.
Originally reviewed at 24Framespersecond.net