Akemi Tachibana (Meiko Kaji), the head of the Tachibana crime family, has to deal with the rival Aozora gang who are threatening to take over their territory. Dobashi (Toru Abe), head of the rival gang, plans to flood the area with opium. He is helped by a traitor Senba-Tatsu (Shiro Otsuji) from the Tachibana group, who is also scheming for control, and a mysterious blind woman (Hoki Tokuda) who is looking for revenge against Akemi. Akemi is helped by a group of women who she met in prison some years before and a man Tani (Makoto Sato), who offers his assistance. Akemi believes that she is cursed, being haunted by dreams of a black cat.
“Blind Woman’s Curse” stars Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood) in a violent crime thriller, touching on the sex industry and drug trafficking. While it is restrained in comparison with director Ishii’s other exploitation films (such as “Shogun’s Joy of Torture” or “Orgies of Edo”) it nevertheless does not shy away from revealing the darker side of human nature. In particular the scenes of opium addiction manage to evoke a sense of absolute moral decay and humanity brought low. The weird and surreal elements also see Ishii at his most creative, with the supernatural, supersitious elements. The hunchback, the blind woman and the cat could almost be from an ancient myth or fable transposed into a historical drama. Ishii is a master of creating unsettling imagery and the inexplicable sights of the circus show, children in baskets, a man making a stew of human body parts, are a great example of achieving genuine chills through bizarre, inexplicable, yet simple visuals. We also see familiar motifs reappearing here, including flashes of torture, tattoos, and bloody sword fights. Ishii excels at strong female characters, and Meiko Kaji gives a fantastic nuanced performance as a dangerous woman who constrains herself in an attempt to tread a new path. Her reluctance to engage with Dobashi creates a tension as the increasing violence forces her to action.
The film features two central plots: the first of a gang war with one reluctant side being pressured to act; the second of the blind woman’s revenge against Akemi. While one is very rooted in the real world, speaking to human violence, competition, criminality, and disloyalty, the other is an archetypical story that seems based in a mystical past, but which mirrors perfectly the contemporary story. This sense of a moral fable is made more explicit in the scenes with the hunchback, a character who seems out of place in the story, a semi-mythical personage imbued with magic powers. It is clearest at the end when we see the sky whorl in an unnatural spiral above the final duel. Ishii draws a line from the violence present in society to these primordial themes of violence and revenge, perhaps suggesting an eternal cycle of cruelty, one that is reflected in humanities earliest stories, represented by the fear of a violent grudge coming back to haunt you. While Akemi wants to move her family out of the criminal world, forces constantly conspire to drag her back into her violent past. A fantastical story that perfectly balances elements of crime and horror to create an entertaining experience led by the exceptional Meiko Kaji.