Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler (1972): Japan – directed by Kazuhikio Yamaguchi
Not rated by the MPAA – contains bloody violence and some brief nudity
With the sequel to 1971’s Wandering Ginza Butterfly [review here], the story stays rather similar, but with Sonny Chiba added to the mix and gambling taking the place of hustling pool. Nami (played again by the iconic Meiko Kaji) is once again wandering around Tokyo and the surrounding areas. She is a professional gambler, following in the footsteps of her wrongly murdered father. Her first act in She-Cat Gambler is to save a girl sold into prostitution. She rescues her and takes her back to Tokyo to work as a hostess (without the sex) at a club run by an old friend of Nami’s.
Nami also runs into a no-good gambler thug and helps him out, putting him forever in her debt. Then she runs into Ryuji (Sonny Chiba), a different character from the first film, but with the same name. He runs the only other prostitution ring outside of the Aoshida Company, which is the evil corporation of Yakuza. In spite of his questionable line of work, Ryuji is a decent fellow, and very kind to his girls.
Everything is fine until Aoshida starts muscling in on the club and Ryuji’s racket. It doesn’t help matters that he might have had something to do with Nami’s father’s death. Eventually everything ends up in another orgy of violence and destruction.
Until that point the film is basically a Yakuza drama. This time, though, there’s more comedy thrown in, and even a few slapstick routines involving Chiba. The violence, however brief it may be, is a fair bit more bloody and spurty than the previous entry.
It’s hard to tell if She-Cat Gambler is supposed to be a sequel or a prequel, since some events line up in both films, such as Nami’s father being dead. In the end it feels more like one of the Yakuza Deka [review here] films, also starring Chiba, where from the first to the second there are basically the same characters in slightly different situations. It’s almost like alternate universes where the same people exist yet get into different trouble.
In spite of the ambiguity involving the film and it’s predecessor I still quite enjoyed the film. Chiba adds quite a bit to the story, as his presence always does. The directing has a few more stylish flourishes that Kazuhiko Yamaguchi must have learned between the films. Kaji is once again wonderful as the same character she almost always plays, similar to her tough-woman role in Lady Snowblood and Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion. She’s tough and independent, a wanderer in the rough streets of Tokyo. She is pretty but able to handle herself, not taking any crap from anyone. At the end of the film she shows why her films inspired Quentin Tarantino to channel her through Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
She-Cat Gambler is perhaps a little better Wandering Ginza Butterfly, but as a sequel it doesn’t have quite the same effect. On it’s own it would stand successfully, but as both films are 86 minutes long they would make a great double-feature. Fans of original Yakuza cinema should definitely seek this out, and fans of Tarantino might also be interested in another of the films that inspired him.