Watch Out, Crimson Bat!

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The third entry in the series saw a new director, and unfortunately, a marked turn for the worse, largely because the focus drifts off Oichi. It starts briskly enough, with the heroine coming into possession of a new, effective formula for gunpowder, something barely known at the time in Japan. Understandably, this makes her the focus of attention, in particular for a group with an interest in profiting from the discovery.

I have a number of qualms with the storyline here, not least the concept that “weapons of mass destruction” (as gunpowder was, when compared to the arrows and swords prevalent during this era) are safe in any hands. Moral doubts aside, the main flaw is the introduction of characters such as Gennosuke (Ibuku) and, worse still, an immensely irritating pair of teenage orphans. Together, they succeed in making Oichi feel like a supporting character in her own movie, and she is almost entirely absent from action in the middle portion.

By the time she rides to the rescue…yes, I said “rides”, her previously unmentioned equestrian skills being hand-waved away with “the horse knows where it’s going”…the film is pretty much dead in the water. The final battle does mark another step up in scale, with Matsuyama’s skills again clearly improved, and the quantity of enemies dispatched again setting a high-water mark, even if Gennosuke gets to take out almost as many as Oichi, and the way in which the villainous henchman suddenly switches sides is laughable. In marked contrast to its two predecessors, this does have a proper ending, tying up the loose threads in a satisfying, if conventional, way. It isn’t enough to rescue the day, with interest having succumbed at a disturbingly early point.

In its incarnation as Samurai Woman (left), I believe this was the only installment to see a release in the UK. When first seen, over a decade ago, it was unimpressive, and it remains weak, particularly when viewed from an action heroine perspective. But even in general terms, it’s a poor piece of cinematic storytelling.

Dir: Hirokazu Ichimura
Stars: Yoko Matsuyama, Goro Ibuki, Kiyoko Inoue, Asahi Kurizuka
a.k.a. Mekura No Oichi Monogatari: Midare Gasa

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