Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler Review
After being directed by Shunya Ito on the first of the Female Scorpion series, Meiko Kaji returned, along with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, to star as gambling savvy Nami Higuchi for the final time.
The story this time sees Nami back in Ginza, searching for a man named Hoshiden, believed to be responsible for murdering her father thirteen years ago during a card game. When she saves the life of a young woman named Hanae (Tamayo Mitsukawa), whose father, Senzo (Junzaburo Ban), pimped her out to gangsters in order to settle a debt, Nami learns from Senzo the truth behind the brutal slaying she witnessed as a child all those years ago. This leads her to visit old friend Miyoko (Yukie Kagawa), who now works as a Mama for a low-rent club. Miyoko offers Hanae a job as a hostess, while Nami also takes on work in-between scouring the local dens for information. She soon bumps into Ryuji (Shinichi Chiba), who drinks at Senzo’s favourite bar, and who has eyes on setting up his own little hostess ring. Finding himself drawn to Nami, they search all over Ginza together until Nami learns that Hoshiden is right under her very nose.
Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler feels more like a loose re-imaging, rather than a real attempt to follow the continuity of Nami’s first outing. While the central premise is once more enveloped by the Ginza entertainment district and codes of honour are again brought into disrepute, Nami is this time a gambler of a different nature. No longer a hustling billiards pro, she’s now a Hanafuda ace, specialising in the game of Koi-Koi, which she uses as a means to enter gambling dens in order to attain info on the death of her father, who also seems to no longer have ties to his previously established love of billiards. Likewise, Yamaguchi ushers in a new roster of characters, some of whom are taken on by familiar Toei support players who featured in the previous flick also. Thus Nami is charged with having to make new comrades in small-time crook Monjiro, and a Ryuji of a rather different nature in Shinichi Chiba’s stammering pimp.
Although he already had more than ten years of experience behind him, Chiba wasn’t considered top grade acting talent; he was a rising action star who was steadily honing his skills. The seventies would eventually go on to define his status as such, but here he’s learning his craft as an actor, and he does it in a rather creative manner. Yamaguchi states that Chiba came up with the idea of adding a stutter to his character’s speech in order to find comfort in delivering lines. The move turned out to be very effective, providing Chiba the opportunity to get the audience on his side with an infectious charm. As with Tsunehiko Watase of the first feature, Chiba’s rogue pimp is a fun addition to a fairly standard script, coming across as a sort of light comic relief to Kaji’s hardened demeanour, she being a tad more stoic in this adventure, though certainly sharing a strong chemistry with her co-star regardless.
There’s a sense then that Yamaguchi is trying to be a little more playful with the overall tone, what with some cheeky tertiary support - Toshiaki Tsushima’s score even signalling as much - though he doesn’t skimp on the melodrama afforded to Hanae’s plight throughout the film’s sub-plot, and of course those dealing with Nami‘s painful memories. Assuredly, by the end of the feature the director doesn’t forget the importance of a cathartic resolution, delivering another strong set piece, which notably sees Chiba demonstrate what he does best cum the final ten minutes, in what is an unsurprisingly turbulent climax filled with mouthy Yakuza and clashing blades.
Oddly enough Ginza 2 is encoded as R1, whereas the first part is region free.
My thoughts on the transfer here are largely similar to that of the first film, with just a couple of noticeable differences.
Stated as being derived from Toei’s original vault elements and remastered in high-definition, the 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks very good. We’ve a pretty clean and stable transfer, free from compression artefacts and exhibiting natural levels of film grain and an accurate colour balance. Contrast is nice and black levels are rich, with strong shadow detail. Overall detail is fine, with just a hint of softness in wider shots, which doesn’t look like it can be helped a great deal, along with a spot of shimmering. There is however high frequency haloing, and a little more in the way of print defects. There are several instances which show what appear to be splice marks or tape/glue residue at the top of the image during scene/shot changes; an inherent flaw that doesn’t really need digital tinkering, but remains noticeable regardless.
The original Japanese mono track is also as good as can be expected; no audio drop outs or hissing, it offers a strong level of clarity throughout. Accompanying it are removable English subtitles which offer a good translation and are free from grammatical error.
Much of the bonus material here is carried over from the first disc. The interview with director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi is exactly the same, as is Chris. D’s biography on Meiko Kaji, the theatrical trailers and the poster gallery. The only new addition is a ten minute interview with Pinky Violence expert J-Taro Sugisaku. J-Taro talks enthusiastically about Meiko Kaji, offering his thoughts on what makes her a good actress and focusing on her overall appeal, particularly with that of a kind of innocence she exuded on screen and her teasing nature in offering so very few happy emotions. He also talks about her early years with Nikkatsu when she worked under a different name and throws out a few facts toward the end, whilst also detailing the differences between she and Red Peony Gambler actresses Junko Fuji.
Wandering Ginza Butterfly 2: She-Cat Gambler doesn’t take the formula greatly beyond that of the first feature, but it is enjoyable throughout, featuring a particularly fun performance from Shinichi Chiba and showing Meiko Kaji once more on top bad-ass form.