Crimson Bat: Wanted, Dead or Alive

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Director Ichimura returned for the fourth episode, and despite similar problems as the third installment – most obviously, an apparent doubt that Oichi’s character can hold the viewer’s interest by herself – makes a much better stab at things here. Bounty-hunter Oichi finds out what life is like on the other side of the law, after she helps rescue an unwilling bride from a local magistrate; he slaps a 100 gold-piece reward on her head, which naturally, brings other bounty-hunters on her trail, led by Sankuro (Meguro).

She ends up in a fishing village, where the “evil property developer” subplot makes a surprising appearance, despite the historical era. The reconstruction of the harbour threatens to put the locals out of work, but a plot is afoot among the local authorities to pay them only one gold piece each in compensation, rather than the 15 gold pieces actually provided by the federal government. Residents, officials, bounty-hunters and Oichi all inevitably collide, including one character played by Tetsuro Tamba, who remains even now one of the most respected (and prolific – the IMDB lists 193 films for him!) actors in Japanese cinema.

There’s a lot of devious double-crossing and deception here, which is okay to watch, but isn’t really the reason we watch these things. And that it also turns out to be Sankuro’s birthplace is too much of a fluke to swallow. Fortunately, it all builds nicely to an extended finale, where our heroine (now also framed for the murder of a village elder) gets a chance to take out her aggression and resentment on all those who have turned her life into that of a hunted animal. It’s a great urban battle, through the town which is being demolished around her, in and out of buildings until she finally confronts the chief villain of the piece.

Though this was the last entry in the series, there isn’t much sense of closure at the end, with (and I trust I’m not really spoiling this for anyone) Oichi merely walking off into the sunset, alone again, naturally. One senses Shochiku were hoping to continue, but for whatever reason – most likely box-office success, or rather, the lack thereof – it never materialised. However, for a series from the 60’s, it was undeniably ahead of its time, and most of the films have survived the passage of three and a half decades in an impressive style. If any enterprising DVD company were to snap them up, the rewards would likely be significant.

Dir: Hirokazu Ichimura
Stars: Yoko Matsuyama, Yuki Meguro, Tetsuro Tanaba, Reiko Oshida
a.k.a. Mekura No Oichi Monogatari: Inochi Moraimasu

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