As most people know, and as the url for this blog probably gives away, I am a huge fan of the Grindhouse era of cinema, I always have been, there is just something that draws me to it, and the people who were seen as stars because of it, and like anyone I have my favorites, favorite films, favorite actors, favorite actresses, you know the normal. Its one of my favorite actresses that I'd like to speak about now though, because, well I can.
I would like to speak about a woman by the name of Meiko Kaji. A woman who though some could say she helped define the "pink film" era of Asian Cinema, she strived to be more then just a pretty face and a pretty body, she had many roles outside of the genre, and even has to this day a singing career and has held and is still working in television, with her returning to film if she feels the want to do so, she is also an author and the subject of afew books herself, and is seen by many as a cultural icon both in japan and asia, and to an extent, all over the world. She's in a sense, the asian Christina Lindberg (of whom I'll be writing of at a later date). Her films, also like Lindbergs, were a huge insperation for Quinton Tarentino's "Kill Bill" series, though the story itself mimiced Lindberg's "Thriller: A Cruel Picture" there were many aspects lefted from Kaji's work as well, most noteably "Lady Snowblood".
I first saw Meiko in what is called the Sasori series, a series which films include Female Convict 701: Scorpion, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable, and Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701 Grudge Song, they tell the story of a woman named Nami "Matsu" Matsushima also known as her prison nickname "Sasori" (scorpion in english), it tells you the story of her wrongful conviction, her decent into insanity, violence and revenge, and eventually her road to freedom. Some could argue they are nothing but overly violent women in prison style exploitation films with nudity and atleast 2 graphic depictions of prison rape in the entire series of films, and the violent nature of them does kind of punch you in the face over and over again, but given the story, and how its ment to represent a woman who's gone completely insane and has adapted to her forced environment which is that of violence and death, so well that she has become the worst nightmare of those who have allowed the prisons to become that way. I've always said, Meiko in the long black coat and the large black hat which are trademark of the character of Matsu has to be one of the most beautiful images I've ever seen put on film, there is a scene in Grudge Song where she's wearing it while holding this custom long barrel dragonov sniper riffle where she just looks so beautiful and deadly at the same time... its just amazing.
Most will remember Meiko from her most popular movies here in the west, the Lady Snowblood series, which has the normal fodder for pink films of the asian market, murder, rape, prision, things like that, but tells the story of Yuki Kashima, who's mother was in prison for murdering a man that was part of a gang who murdered her family and raped her, her mother died during childbirth and her last words were to have her daughter taken somewhere and trained in the way of violence, so she could be able to take revenge on those who murdered her mother's family. At age 20, she does just this, both films in the series, Lady Snowblood and Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song Of Vengence are seen as some of the greatest movies in both the pink film and kung fu film genres, not many films hold this honor, and they are seen as only second and third to the movie Sex and Fury (another film I will speak of at a later date.). Meiko was also known here in the west for her Stray Cat Rock series, which are your basic asian school girl meets violence and such type movies, I'm not really a big fan of them personally, but they are early in Meiko's career and you can see the mastery she has over her films early in them.
What makes me love Meiko Kaji as I do is just the whole allure of her, her dark haunting eyes, the fact that she can be doing the most horrible and violent things but two second but still look beautiful while doing it, the japanese have a word for it that means "beautiful warrior" and the chinese have a word that means "alluring death" but I can't for the life of me remember how to spell either of them, but they both would be accurate adjectives for Mieko. She also allows you to see her soft side in each of her films, there are moments in each one, where though you see her gone completely insane and out for blood, she still shows the soft and playfully child like side of her, I love that about her. Its always been that depth, that wonderful command of all emotions and ability to switch to whatever she needs to be, thats made her such an icon to me. Yes, many could dismiss her as a woman that was put on screen because she's attractive and willing to do nudity and some darkly violent things, but, she's no different then women in most action movies today who are known for doing things of that nature, the only difference is, when Meiko did it, she did it in her own way, with her own style and her own grace, both of which, if you see her recent work, you will see is still there.
So if you haven't ever seen Meiko's work, or are curious of the inner workings of the asian take on grindhouse cinema, then take a look at her work, and see what you think.. Also, check out her music, her voice is just amazing. And hopefully in the end, you'll come to love Meiko as much as I do.