Modern Lady Gambler

Modern Lady Gambler ★★★½

Aka - Modern Woman Gambler
Aka - Showa onna Bakuto

One interesting thing to me is how certain film genres came to exist that were almost completely unique to a country - hopping vampires in Hong Kong, Peplum in Italy or female gambling films in Japan. From the 1960's into the 1970's this genre was a regular staple at the movie theaters. The best known was perhaps the Red Peony Gambler series with Junko Fuji, the Cat Girl Gambler films with Yumiko Nogawa, the Wandering Ginza Butterfly films with Meiko Kaji and the Woman Gambling Expert series with Enami Kyoko. On top of this are intriguing titles that I want to see like Bitter Tears of a Woman Gambler, Two Enemy Women Gamblers, The Sister Gamblers, Thoroughbred Women Gamblers and A Woman's Gamble that I know of.

There is simply something iconic and visually pleasing about a lovely woman kneeling around a rectangular space of anxious sweating betting men, calm and reposed, in a kimono, her hair pulled back into a bun, perhaps a tattoo showing on her shoulder if she needs to distract the gamblers and totally commanding the scene as she shakes and then slams down the dice cup. This one stars Enami Kyoko of the Woman Gambling Expert film series. That series ran from 1967 to 1971 with over ten films and was produced by Daiei. I had initially thought that this film was part of that series, but in fact it was produced by Toei right after her last film in the series. Still, they have her again as a Yakuza gambler in the traditional mold of Ninkyo eiga style - i.e. in which the Yakuza heroes are noble, chivalrous and ruled by a set of intricate obligations. This genre was coming to an end as films were becoming more cynical, bloodier, realistic and the noble Yakuza character was losing favor. So this turned out to be Enami Kyoko's last role of this kind but she was to continue acting until 2018, the year she passed away.

The film begins in startling fashion as she approaches a man in a pouring rain - asks if he is who she thinks he is and when he assents she announces that she is the wife of Tatsumi (Hiroki Matsukata) who this man killed and savagely stabs him to death. Ah, another Japanese film tradition - the female revenge film. After killing him she says to herself "I have killed the first of them". Even better. More to come. But first a lengthy flashback to bring us up to this moment. The man she loved was a Yakuza sub-boss - the good kind - and after he is murdered she picks up his blade and begins tracking down the men all over Japan. To cover her purpose she trains as a gambler and uses this as a reason to look for the men in the places where they hang out.

Within all of this is a love story and Yakuza story of obligations and the breaking of them. There is actually very little gambling but there is some good action, a compelling story and a terrific climax. I expect that was meant to be the beginning of a series - it just has that feel - but sadly it was not meant to be. I have a few other of these female gambling films that I need to watch. They click with me.

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