Hijirimen Bakuto (Japan 1972)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: Red Silk Gambler
Review Date: 9/27/20
Cast: Eiko Nakamura, Reiko Ike

Tiger Lily Okatsu (Eiko Nakamura) is an assassin who goes to jail for killing a Yakuza boss. While in prison, she befriends a female Yakuza named Ohide and they become blood sisters. She also gets a marvelous tattoo of a tiger lily on her back to remind her of a life-changing event from her youth. After being released from prison, Okatsu gives up the assassin life and strikes out on her own, meeting several extraordinary women along the way. One is Onada (Reiko Iko), who is the daughter of the slain Yakuza boss and has sworn to take Okatsu's life. Another is Omon, a blind swordswoman who challenges Okatsu to a duel and ultimately befriends her. There's also another woman who lends Okatsu some money and then comes to her rescue by shooting a bunch of thugs who attack her. She's never explained and quickly disappears from the picture. The main drama revolves around Ohide's struggles with her family business and a rival clan's attempts to crush her. Okatsu and Omon dedicate themselves to stopping the villains and putting them to the sword.

It's a good looking and well-made entry in the pinky violence genre, and a challenging juxtaposition of female empowerment and misogynistic brutality. Eiko Nakamura is pretty, but her acting is a bit flat and her sword work is unconvincing. She simply lacks the intensity and physicality that the role requires. Omon and Ohide end up stealing the show, and the highlight of the film is arguably Omon's Zatoichi-inspired fight scene at the villain's home. Reiko Ike gives a spirited performance in her limited role and also handles the obligatory topless scenes. The cinematography is excellent, and while the fight scenes aren't particularly noteworthy, there are a handful of extremely messy blood geysers that grab your attention. The film actually works better as a drama than as an exploitation flick, which may be the reason it has sunk into obscurity.