Criminal Woman: Killing Melody (Japan 1973)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/4/19
Cast: Reiko Ike, Miki Sugimoto, Yumiko Katayama, Masami Souda

"You have become a truly ruthless woman. How dare you surpass me!"

A woman named Maki (Reiko Ike) goes to jail after attempting to avenge herself against the Yakuza goons who murdered her father and gang-raped her. For years she plots revenge, and upon being released from prison her former cellmates decide to help her out because they're itching for adventure and have nothing better to do. Maki whores herself out at an American Air Force base for money and guns, while the others perform various recon and intel missions. Using their feminine wiles, the women orchestrate a gang war between two local Yakuza factions, and then they take down whoever is left standing. A Yakuza mistress (Miki Sugimoto) sees through Maki's plan, which leads to a knife fight on a beach that's littered with heroin and dead bodies.

As far as "pinky violence" films go, this is one of the best ones I've seen. It's a solid revenge tale with a strong cast of memorable characters. My only criticism would be that the outrageous 70's fashions detract from the action. Polyester flare pants and garish floral patterns do not make for appealing fighting apparel. Reiko Ike gives an excellent performance and is a master of the intense withering gaze. However, you get a sense that she's holding back and not entirely committed to the role. Miki Sugimoto, on the other hand, nearly steals the show with her wicked charm and untamed sensuality, and looks surprisingly convincing wielding a knife. The action scenes are weak and the gunplay is laughably bad, which is a common problem with Japanese cinema. Although I was very impressed with an extended prison brawl between Ike and Sugimoto early on in the film. There's also a villain who uses chewing gum as a deadly weapon, which is something I don't recall ever seeing before. Every good henchman needs their own unique fighting specialty, right?

The production values are good and the film maintains its serious and no-nonsense tone throughout. It also treats the sex, nudity, and torture with an appropriate amount of respect, and the exploitive nature of the material never comes across as cheap or gratuitous. Well, except for one ridiculously over-the-top scene of Yakuza debauchery at a sleazy nightclub. Fans of the genre and its powerhouse stars will find this film a worthwhile addition to their collection.