I am sure I am not alone but after watching the film and all the extras I always read the booklet that goes with them before putting back on the shelf. Not all Blu-Ray companies bother with these but Arrow are one that does go the extra mile (certainly on first edition) and they have a good knowledgeable stable of writers. Sometimes with the bigger box sets such as the HG Lewis Feast and Nekromantik ones sitting in front of me, they make things all the more expansive so it seems like a good plan for them to go and release some stand-alone publications in their own right. The first three announced included one on Ghost In The Shell, a film I have zero interest in and another on The Blair Witch Project, a film that I think is absolute tripe and responsible for all manner of rubbish in its wake. I kind of wondered why they were going down this route not having even released the films. Luckily for me though the third book Unchained Melody was of much more interest and Arrow have certainly done a great job of bringing the films of Meiko Kaji to our attention.

Born in 1947 Meiko was an actress who never went by the rules and brought much of her persona to the screen. In the 70’s Japanese cinema was suffering as it was in many other parts of the world due to the advent of the television. Although cinema was a very sociable event the smaller box meant people could stay in the comfort of their own home to get a fix and their daily dose of entertainment and the film industry was suffering as a result. In order to combat this they had to try something new and that meant delivering things that had not been considered up to now. These included the age old staples of sex and violence in ever more gratuitous form. The sex industry in Japan though never hardcore as such consisted of Toei Pinky Violence & Nikkatsu Roman Porno from the two major production studios. It became all the rage but Meiko with her striking looks was having none of it and managed to infiltrate the studios with a strict no nudity policy. Her roles went even further than this as she portrayed a ruthless and kick-ass character who took no rubbish on her quests (normally of vengeance) and was no doubt one of the greatest feminists of the movie screen in any particular given country. You may well remember her coming back in favour long after she retired due to Quentin Tarantino who resurrected her ‘Flower Of Carnage’ in Kill Bill.

Long before this though she was a right naughty delinquent playing a trouble making teen in the Noraneko Rokku (Stray cat/Alleycat Rock) films in the early 70’s. It is two other series that she is best known for however firstly the Female Convict Scorpion Films and then the 2 Lady Snowblood movies. Both had themes of righting betrayal and vengeance at their heart and anyone who has seen them will never truly forget the experience. The image of Keiji walking in long brimmed hat, flowing cloak and hair on her quests has become things of movie iconography and near folklore. If you watch Sion Sono’s startling epic ‘Love Exposure’ (2008) you will see just one of many modern day tributes to Kaji and the characters that she became so renowned for.

That is just the briefest introduction to her craft, for more the aforementioned films along with others such as Blind Woman’s Curse (1970) are all available on Blu via Arrow and then of course there is this book. Author Tom Mes had already more than proven his salt with FAB Press book Agitator and done a wonderful job documenting the convoluted career of film-maker Takashi Miike and here does similar although in a much more condensed and easy to read fashion. This pocket sized book may well be small in stature compared to that lengthy treatise but is certainly not lacking in fact. We are taken through Meiko’s extensive career in context with information on the early years and films are described along with overviews about the directors behind them. Naturally it is full of photos to go with the writing and goes right up to date talking about how she moved onto television and her subsequent singing career. Although she did eventually disappear from the public eye thanks to the aforementioned Kill Bill and the hi-def releases of her films interest in her has been well and truly renewed and this is an excellent insight into her remarkable life and movies. To be honest it could do with an up to date and in depth interview, the author mentions meeting her in a hotel in 2006 but only briefly talks about the conversation. Still there is probably at least one on the various film extras. This book is a great marketing tool that’s for sure. It made me really want to watch the Lady Snowblood films again (I could never tire of them anyway) upgrade my Female Prisoner DVD set to Blu and grab the Stray Cat films and see them for the first time. Damn you Arrow for the damage to my pocket but at least I nabbed a review copy of the book. Looking at the IMDB it appears that Meiko has been recently working again appearing very true to form in a Japanese TV Series Joshû Seven (Seven Women In Prison.) Let’s hope a subtitled version finds its way over here!

Pete Woods