Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tales of Chivalrous Women: The Chivalrous Geisha 日本女侠伝 侠客芸者 (Yamashita Kosaku 山下耕作, 1969)

In this film a Fuji Junko plays the extremely popular, principled, and extremely attractive geisha Shinji, who rejects the advances of coal baron, played sleazily by Kaneko Nobuo (perhaps best known as Boss Yamamori in Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity.) As she spurns his advances, as well as an early Meiji era imperial army general's, she begins to fall for a local mine owner named Shimada, played by Fuji's regular opposite Takakura Ken, whose mine is desired by the powerful Kaneko. This conflict eventually leads to death and destruction, as competition between Takakura and Kaneko mounts, with Fuji in the middle.

This film, like the Red Peony Gambler series, is pure entertainment, with some leftist anti-capitalist notes (funny that Yamashita isn't given nearly the hard time Yamamoto and Imai are). Fuji is a delight, and not for one second do you believe she's not nearly as attractive and interesting a geisha as the film is making her out to be. There are some interesting directorial flourishes, particularly in one of the last scenes where Fuji does Kabuki, with the red hair of the mythological lion, a being that protects against evil spirits and brings peace. This "dance" is countered with a long battle between Takakura and the rival gang protecting Kaneko's coal baron, lead by Tomisaburu Wakayama, flashing to one then back to the other. It's a powerful and effective use of editing.


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