Genre: Romance/ Action/ Swordplay/ Martial Arts
Director: Tai Katô
WORTH A LOOK
As revenge pictures go, Lady Gambler is middling.
It starts out with a bang. Not a minute into the film, Ofuji (Kyôko Enami) butchers a man with a knife. The killing is protracted and brutal, and all the while Ofuji has a strange sort of ecstasy playing across her features. It’s a fine opening, but then we have to go through a painfully long flashback introducing Ofuji and what changed her from a normal woman into a Grim Reaperess.
It’s not that the writing, characterizations, acting, or directing are poor — far from it. It’s just that the viewer doesn’t need 50 minutes for what is basically setup. I guess I wouldn’t mind so much if the setup had a lot of inherent interest, but it doesn’t. That’s the fault of screenwriter Michio Honda (adapting a story by Shinya Fujiwara).
Aside from the general level of high craft that we’ve come to expect from late 60s and early 70s Japanese movies, there are a couple of things that threaten to make Lady Gambler worth a watch. One is that director Tai Katô allows the audience the satisfaction of making the death throes of the villains prolonged. The other aspect that’s unusually well brought off is the comic relief by Sabu, the brother of Tatsumi, the yakuza that Ofuji falls in love with. Sabu is crude and not very bright, but he means well, and he’s not exaggerated to the point of unbelievability.
But it doesn’t matter because there isn’t enough story, at least enough compelling story, to help us maintain interest even for a modest 90 minutes. Before I checked the length, I would have sworn the movie was a shade under two hours.
Lady Gambler is not without merit, but it isn’t really worth a recommendation either. You can afford to skip this one, unless you absolutely have to see every Japanese gangster movie set during the Edo or Meiji eras and made between 1965 and 1975 (that would be me).