Later that same year (1969), Oichi was back in action, and at the start of Trapped, seems quite content with her life as a bounty-huntress. She has even adopted an orphan, just as she herself was taken in herself, but two things wreck this relatively happy situation. She discovers her protege is really a runaway, not an orphan, and consequently has to abandon her – again, as she was discarded. Worse yet, she incurs the wrath of fellow bounty-huntress Oen (Matsuoka), a kitten with a whip and pockets full of venomous snakes, who leaves Oichi for dead. Luckily, she is nursed back to health by Matsuka (Irikawa), a farmer who doesn’t care about her shady past, and Oichi discovers the joys of a simpler existence – specifically, one not involving the slaughter of criminals for cash. Of course, the inevitable eventually happens: local thug Bunzo (Abe) starts taking the locals’ rice stocks, with Oen closely in tow. No prizes for guessing that the quiet life isn’t going to last long, especially after Matsuka is manipulated by Oen into owing a gambling debt to Bunzo.
This is a fine movie, with Matusoka in particular a grand foil for the heroine, her hair covering one half of her face like a veil, and the other half usually displaying a near-psychotic expression. Oichi’s struggles to leave her past behind feel almost like Shakespearean tragedy, and the final shots of the film, while a sudden way to end, hint strongly at an endless, futile struggle. To paraphrase George Orwell, if you want a picture of the future, imagine a Samurai sword slicing up an opponent…forever. Downbeat? Hell, yes. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
The action is decent too, with Matsuyama definitely operating a step above her first outing; although these aren’t usually so much fights, more the swift dispatch of one or more opponents, that’s par for the chambara genre. Matsuka is somewhat of an enigma as a character – it’s hard to see why Oichi falls for him, and the whole “orphan” plotline is not well handled. In particular, it’s lacking any kind of background, to the extent it feels like an entire film was missing. The rest of the story though, is well-crafted and packs a solid wallop; you could certainly argue that this is the best flight of the Crimson Bat.
Dir: Matsuda Teiki
Stars: Yoko Matsuyama, Yasunori Irikawa, Kikko Matsuoka, Toru Abe
a.k.a. Mekura No Oichi Monogatari: Jigoku Hada