Friday, July 10, 2009

REVIEW: Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2:: She-Cat Gambler

銀蝶流れ者 牝猫博奕 (Gincho nagaremono mesuneko bakuchi)

Released: 1972

Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

Meiko Kaji

Sonny Chiba
Shingo Yamashiro

Running time: 86 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

The second Wandering Ginza Butterfly film is less a sequel than it is simply another set of events that happen in the life of main character Nami (aka the Red Cherry Blossom). Likely it happens sometime after the conclusion to the first film, but it could just as well have taken place in an alternate universe since, other than her characteristics and her history of having learned all her card-playing, pool-cue-wielding and con-man ways from her father, Nami isn't tied at all to any of the people from the initial film. Fortunately, it retains the fun spirit and playful style of that first movie while also working its way towards a violent showdown with those who deserve their comeuppance.

The first time we see Nami, she literally wanders into the path of three thugs trying to recapture a young lady who has escaped their clutches. Though this scene sets the plot rolling, the film feels less story focused and more tailored to its individual scenes than the previous one. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but it doesn't quite build up as much tension towards any reveals or fights since it seems to just hop from scene to scene. The connections go something like the following...The young girl saved by Nami has a drunk for a father who sold her to those thugs in the first place because of the gambling debt he has to the local yakuza who run the local sex clubs. One of those clubs has a Madam who is an old friend of Nami's (from their street days) and who tries to convince her to join the gang to help out at the gambling tables where Nami has been spending her time hoping to come across the man responsible for her father's death years ago. While at one of gambling tables she befriends a stuttering pimp named Ryu (played by Sonny Chiba) who is trying to start up his own sex club as competition to the yakuza.

So there's less of a straight through line in the story as compared to the initial film, but everything still moves at a good pace. Another difference is that there seems to be a bit less subtlety in the film as evidenced by the more overt statements that the hostesses of these clubs are actually prostitutes as well as the additional and slightly more slapstick humour. A prime example of the latter would be the scene of Ryu's partner "Smokey" sitting on a bidet to show the ladies how to properly clean themselves. There's also the portrayal of the male and female characters - Nami is still the same mysterious yet charming fully realized character, but the rest seem to fit into two divisions: the whiny prostitute or the misogynistic gangster. "She-Cat Gambler" isn't doing anything new or different in these respects, but it does get a bit tiring to see the umpteenth woman get slapped to the ground (even Ryu slaps Nami at one point) or to continually have these men yell as a form of intimidation. Of course, that's partially the point - these are weak people who are stuck under the flashing neon signs of the Ginza district and constantly revert to the only behaviour they know.

So none of that is to be taken as a criticism of the film itself - it stays true to the form and the style of its genre. Though not quite as flashy as, say, "Black Tight Killers" or even (another of Kaji's films) "Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter", director Yamaguchi uses the same techniques he successfully worked into the first film - low angles, freeze frames, appropriate music, zooms to faces, etc. - and continues to do so judiciously. Enough that it helps to ensure that the film flows into, yet again, a solid piece of entertainment.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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