Recently seen movies #155

July 19, 2009

Wandering Ginza Butterfly (Japan, 1972) – 4/5

Meiko Kaji made her final breakthrough in the Stray Cat Rock movies (1970-1971). These ultra chic and largely feminine gang films were distributed by Nikkatsu, the leading studio in modern action cinema and youth films. Toei, a studio with a strong track record in traditional yakuza films, was also catching the drift and followed their modern day set Delinquent Boss series with four Delinquent Girl Boss (1970-1971) movies, helmed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi. Meanwhile, Nikkatsu made a decision to switch over to pink cinema, and Meiko Kaji was left looking for a more decent employer. This brief history concidered, it’s very fitting that she made her Toei debut in Wandering Ginza Butterfly, a female yakuza actioner directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi. Indeed, this could easily have been the fifth Delinquent Girl Boss film. The concept is the exact same. Kaji plays and ex-gang member who has just finished serving her sentence. She finds her way to Ginza hostess clubs, where she meets nice guy Tsunehiko Watase and cool as hell swindler Tatsuo Umemiya (the star of Delinquent Boss), and ultimately finds a new home under the wings of a good hearted woman (Akiko Koyama) running a club. But, following the genre rules, there will be a conflict when the local yakuza try to take over the business by force.

Wandering Ginza Butterfly has a couple of surprises in its pocket. Probably most unexpected comes a very strong drama sequence in the middle of the film. This scene reminds of what a great actress Meiko Kaji is. Another highlight is an edge of your seat billiards match. Violent action is saved to the very last reel, which also features a brief glimpse of bare skin, basically just thrown in for the sake of itself. Yamaguchi usually wasn’t very interested in sexual content. Wandering Ginza Butterfly is in fact an exceptionally light hearted and purely enjoyable film in its own genre. It is perhaps partly because of Kaji’s more elegant presence, as compared to wild girl Reiko Oshida of the similarly constructed Delinquent Girl Boss movies, that certain parts of Wandering Ginza Butterfly have an exceptionally strong ninkyo yakuza film atmosphere to it. No doubt screenwriter Takeshi Matsumoto was also a major contributor to this; his earlier works include instalments to both The Delinquent Boss and the Brutal Tales of Chivalry series. Kaji’s character is called Nami the Red Cherry Blossom, not too far off from Oryu the Red Peony, the heroine played by Junko Fuji in the Red Peony Gambler movies (1968-1972). Fuji’s retirement from movie industry took place just one month before the release of Wandering Ginza Butterfly. It’s not difficult to see Toei was looking for a new yakuza queen.

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