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DVD Reviews: The Wandering Ginza Butterfly Series

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From the vaults of Synapse Films come two “Pinky Violence” features from Japan’s golden early 70s era of filmmaking: Wandering Ginza Butterfly and its follow-up, Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler. Originally, these two titles were supposed to have been released around 2006-07 by a joint venture of Synapse and fellow indie distributors Panik House. Japanese movie lovers soon began to think that all of the fervor over these two films was for naught when Panik House filed Chapter 11. Fortunately, though, the good folks at Synapse are giving fans what they want.

Our first feature, Wandering Ginza Butterfly (1971), opens with heroine Nami (Meiko Kaji) being released from prison for the murder of a yakuza member. Heading back to Tokyo’s upmarket Ginza district to live with her uncle, the dishonored woman takes employ as a hostess in a club with the help of newfound amigo, Ryuji (Tsunehiko Watase). As is usually the case of recently paroled individuals who start to do well for themselves, somebody has to come along and ruin all of the fun. In this case, it’s a yakuza gang who are determined to get the deed to the club.

With a remarkable visual style all its own and a climactic showdown in a billiard hall, Wandering Ginza Butterfly does surprisingly well considering there isn’t much of a story to go on here. Confidentially, I think my significant other enjoyed it way more than I did. The giveaway was when she practically ripped the DVD from my hands after I asked “So, do you want to keep this one?” Oh, hey, there you go fellas: you can say that it is recommended for women by women if that’ll help convince your partner to buy it! I saved your bacon again, guys. That’s me, the ol’ bacon-saver.

So anyway, not too terribly long after the first Wandering Ginza Butterfly flick was released in Japan, a follow-up, Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler (1972), found its way to theaters as well. The plot this time consists of our Red Cherry Blossom beauty Nami returning to the Ginza district once more to seek vengeance on the man who murdered her father several years prior. Just take the story from the first film, change a few names and faces, et voilà: a whole new film.

While this standalone entry may just as well have been a quasi-remake of the original, She-Cat Gambler brings its own party with it. Sure, the style from the previous film is still there, but the filmmakers wisely decided to keep things fresh. As such, they ditched the comical character (played by Tsunehiko Watase in the first outing) and chose to throw in a hardened sword-fighting Sonny Chiba (who was only two years from achieving immortality in the Street Fighter series) as the film’s co-star. So, even if it is very similar to the prior entry, we still score double points with Sonny alone.

Both movies arrive straight from the Toei Company vault in an absolutely stunning presentation. Each film has been fully-restored and boasts a new anamorphic widescreen transfer (2.35:1) mastered in High Definition. The mono stereo Japanese sound comes through clear as day on both titles, and newly-translated optional English subtitles are included (just in case you’ve never bothered to learn Japanese).

Most of the special features on these two films are identical. There’s a new interview with director/co-writer Kazuhiko Yamaguchi; trailers for both Wandering Ginza Butterfly films; a gallery of poster art (featuring its own biography); and a reversible cover with the original (and really cool) Japanese theatrical artwork on the back side. The “indigenous” extras are an audio commentary with Japanese film fanatic Chris D. (on Wandering Ginza Butterfly) and a second featurette with Pinky Violence expert J-Taro Sukiyaki (on Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler ).

Whether you have a real yen for sword fighting and billiards (like my fiancée), enjoy watching the great Sonny Chiba in action (like me), or you just prefer to watch Japanese films in general, the Wandering Ginza Butterfly series should prove useful.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
  • http://mirellatranquille.spaces.live.com Mirella

    What kind of critic is that? [Edited]