Meiko Kaji. It’s a name you don’t hear much anymore but for a while she was pretty iconic in Japan.
I first became aware of her in the “Lady Snowblood” movies. These films fall short of being chambray classics for me, but still Tarentino copped liberally from them and even used two of Kajhi’s recordings as theme music in the “Kill Bill” movies.
One thing that fascinated me about Kaji in the “Snowblood” films was her face. She seems to have mastered, or been born with, a face that enables you to read your own emotions into any scene. In other words her face manages to reflect your own feelings.
This was further proven when I stumbled across her Scorpion films. Briefly the Scorpion movies have Kaji as a hardened convict, Matsu. These movies are really over the top. Penal reform seems to consist of state sanctioned gang rape, over a year of solitary confinement chained hand and foot to the cold wet floor, (the year Matsu uses to sharpen a spoon into a knife honing the blade against the stone floor using only her teeth!)
Kaji uses only two expressions through the movies. They are ample. Lingering closeups and Vertovian editing conveys an emotional depth to these movies that is exceptional. One elegant sequence features a 100 foot cascading waterfall that gradually turns to blood. This is a practical effect which makes it even more stupefying in a Fleur De Mal kind of way.
But equally breathtaking is Kaji’s flaccid appraisal of the horrifying miracle. Putting it into words would be like trying to describe the Mona Lisa or detail of Heronymous Bosch. The nattering of Manu’s fellow convicts is a relief from the grim spectacle.
My next accidental discovery were the Stray Cat Rock movies. They all star Kaji, but in different roles. The 3 best movies all have some common traits. One is that Kaji wears only a single unchanged outfit in each, so her stylish look becomes a mere uniform of conformity. Even though the series was shot in the 70’s in this Japan the Summer of Love never excited! The heft chunks of music are all defiantly mid 60’s, often to exciting delirious effect. The dancing, the Japanese music are all mid 60’s cool and hot. Imagine the Peanuts (the two miniature women in the Godzilla films who would sing “Maaawthra, Maaawthora”) covering the Shangri-Las and you’re close to it. I do hope that these were big deal bands in Japan, sort of like The Animals appearing in “Winter Carnival” or the like.
The plots to these 3 little films are intriguing. In all of them Kaji plays an aloof and very tough girl gang leader, fast with a blade and a decision. I get them confused but one of them has the bad boy gang driving around in surplus US Army jeeps! The leader decides to get rid of all the half breeds in town. (Half breeds are Japanese and white or black children from occupying soldiers. They are all portrayed as hard working men trying to just get by as opposed to the gang members who are just coasting on the hustle.)
The next is two out oft owners who’ve befriended a US Viet Nam deserter. They plan to finance a trip to Sweden by selling 500 caps of LSD. The math escapes me as it seems that to raise the $30,000 for the boat means each cap wpu;d have to sell for about $60, which is somehow not quite right. But, anyway, some members of Kaji’s gang steal the LSD. The 3 fellows approach Kaji and explain their plight. For some reason helping a US Army deserter is such a just cause in her mind that she makes her girls return the stolen drugs.It doesn’t end well for anyone.
And the last of the 3 good ones has a tall girl who everyone mistakes for a man? She even sings a song with one of the bands and sounds like a male. It good blasé fun,
“Wild Jumbo” Is something of a waste of Kaji’s talent and a waste of time. “Beat ’71” is the only one of the movies to go psychedelic. It’s an abuse. Kaji is a terrible victim and that’s all she is here. She also gets minimal screen time. It would be a total waste except for one inexplicable scene. For no apparent reason a Japanese hippy band shows up on a flat bed truck. The truck has a banner that says, I think, “The Kings of Rock”. The lead singer plays the wadaiko, while the band plays aheavily percussive tune that’s pretty good, a bit like Plan 9: crunching guitar, cowbell and trap set. After they play the number the truck drives off and one of the actors says, “Who were those guys?” and the reply is, “I have no idea.” which sort of sums the whole flick up nicely.
All I’m really saying is that Meiko Kaji is cool in the same way that Bardot and Tuesday Weld are cool. She brings something gracious to the screen and to life. It’s worthwhile checking out her movies.
The title of this podcast is a pun . . . I thought it was funny even if I do have to explain it. It’s acoustic, cowboy song stuff.
Signed D.C. (alt) – Love
A World Of Our Own – Seekers
It’s Gonna Be Alright – Gerry and The Pacemakers
Rosemary Rose – Kinks
Three Steps To Heaven (Version 2) – Eddie Cochran
Bird Dog – Everly Brothers
A Teenager In Love – Lou Christie
I’m Low, Low, Low – Loy Clingman
Play That Cheap Trick – Tommy Womack
It’s In The Bottle – Robert Gordon
Hey Joe – Ed Kuepper
Knapsack – Amy Rigby
Waimea – Travoltas
Wild Thing – Senator Bobby
A Thousand Miles From Nowhere (alt) – Dwight Yoakam
Treat Me Nice – Glen Glenn
For Your Love – Graham Gouldman
School’s Out – Hellsongs
Singing In The Rain – John Martyn
Tompkins Square Blues – Optic Nerve
Don’t – Persuasions
Waterloo Sunset – Peter Bruntnell
Ordinary World – Green Day
What Exactly – PF Sloan
A Day In The Life – Phil Angotti
Set Me Free – Pineapples
Dream Lover – Ricky Nelson
Sunrise – Who
Living Next Door To Alice – Smokie
Thirteen – Sparkle Jets UK
First Time – Teenage Bottle rocket
What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round? – Those Big Belt Buckles
Find Another Man – Travis Wammack
Streets Of Laredo – Webb Wilder
Thank You – Whigs