Past and Present
Ironically, while the woman with the most cause to hate her doesn't, Nami's fellow hostesses turn their noses up at her when they learn that she's an ex-con. It seems like they won't let Nami play any hostess games, but when the local bad guy tries to muscle in on her employer, it's up to Nami to defend the place. Her weapon of choice is a pool cue in a game of three-cushion billiards against the bad guy's resident hustler, a drug addict who luridly loses his composure in mid-match, but recovers to force Nami to make a big comeback in order to win and save the brothel. A poster of Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson presides over the contest, but Yamaguchi is no Robert Rossen. Instead, apart from the opponent's withdrawal episode, the director films this showdown like Billiards for Morons, with voiceovers from Kaji recording such subtle insights as "I need one more point to win." At the risk of spoiling things, I'll inform you that our heroine does win, but it's not much of a spoiler since the bad guy decides that he's going to take over the brothel anyway, so there.
We've got trouble, right here in Ginza City, with a capital T that rhymes with B,
and that stands for Butterfly!
The local good-guy yakuza steps in at this point, trumping the bad guy by announcing his marriage to the madam and his protection of her business. But the bad guy yakuza still won't play fair and has the good-guy yakuza killed in the street. All right, then; that's all Nami can stands, and she can't stands no more. It's time for a different kind of game, the kind you play with swords with a kimono for a uniform and your own song for entrance music. Kaji takes a stroll through the rain like Cagney in The Public Enemy as her song plays on the soundtrack. Only in Public Enemy William Wellman left Cagney's wrath to the imagination, with some help from shots and groans of agony. At Toei we follow the avenger inside -- and it turns out that Ryuji's there already to introduce her to her victims. They practically part the curtain for the moment we've all been waiting for....
She's singing in the rain, but her lips don't move.
Nami's sword does all the talking.
But despite the last-reel effort to live up to Toei standards, Ginza Butterfly is relatively lighthearted affair, despite a mildly downbeat finish, while the sequel, in which Sonny Chiba co-stars, is more blatantly comic from the evidence of the trailer on the Synapse DVD. Maybe "lightheated" doesn't make my point as well as "corny" would. The movie isn't without a bare minimum of Seventies sleaze, but it isn't hardcore Toei by any stretch of the imagination. As a Kaji vehicle it doesn't compare to the Scorpion or Lady Snowblood movies, but the actress is quite likable in a role pitched on a more human or humane level than her most iconic parts, and on this first outing the humor isn't obnoxiously over the top. It's mild for a Toei picture, but unless you must have a bloodbath every ten minutes, not just the last ten, its overall amiable attitude may just win you over.
Here's that trailer I mentioned; dijedil uploaded it to YouTube.