Judge David Johnson is known around town as the Wandering Dung Beetle.
Does this butterfly soar or is it stuck in the wandering pupa stage?
Synapse delivers the first of a one-two punch of old-school pulp Japanese gangster pictures, with a butt-kicking woman at the center.
Facts of the Case
Said woman is Nami (Meiko Kaji), a gang leader who lands herself in prison after offing a Yakuza stooge. She eventually returns to her old stomping grounds, but occupying a much lower rung on the gangster career ladder. Working for her uncle in his pool hall as a hostess, Nami goes about trying to rebuild her life.
That all goes south when the Yakuza decides to move in on the pool hall and take it by force. This leaves Nami with only two options: one is to challenge the head bad guy to the single longest game of pool in Japanese film history and the second is to slice fools up with her katana.
More of the latter please.
Alas, save for a half-decent, sword-swinging, kind-of-bloody hack and slash fight at the end, Wandering Ginza Butterfly is an absolute chore to get through. Which is a shame because there are some nice elements: the smoky cinematography of the wrong side of Tokyo is easy on the eyes and gangster atmosphere that director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi forges is impressive. And Meiko Kaji is magnetic on the screen, blending beauty and bad-assness well.
Thing is, she's given precious little runtime to exercise the swashbuckling aspect of her character. Wandering Ginza Butterfly not so much wanders—that would require at least a molecule of forward momentum—as it does crawl along with the quickness of a wooden alphabet block.
I don't want to come off as some hack guy looking for gonzo slicing and dicing. I can dig me some Japanese gangster odyssey, but there's just not much going on here at all. Besides, the flashy disc case art showed Meiko Kaji wielding her blade with a crazy look in her eye, as if we were to expect all kinds of katana-driven tomfoolery. Nope. Not happening. The brief smackdown that happens at the end, when she finally does go ape-dirt with her blade, doesn't even come close to compensating for the tedious haul the rest of the film demanded.
At least Synapse made the effort to produce a nifty DVD. The rehabbed 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is shockingly good, considering the film's age. The 2.0 mono sound (Japanese with English subtitles) won't knock down your living room walls, but it's adequate. Extras: a nice commentary from Japanese film expert Chris D., an interview with the director and a still gallery.
If you think watching billiards is the bee's knees, you're in for a treat. Anyone hoping for an exciting gangster picture may want to exercise caution.
Guilty. Please wander into these manacles.
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