Thursday, March 24, 2011

Icons of Cool: Meiko Kaji

It’s been some time and a few blogs since I last decreed my affection for Japanese exploitation film goddess and ballad singer Meiko Kaji. In celebration of her 64th birthday today, I thought it time to induct her into Colonel Mortimer’s Icons of Cool alongside Vincent Price and John Lennon.

Despite the typical soft features that we associate with Japanese women, Kaji was adept at exhibiting an emotionless stony veneer that expressed simultaneous rage, contempt and righteous power, imagine Clint Eastwood, only as a hot Asian woman. She’s probably best known in the States for the two 1970s Japanese revenge series in which she played the titular characters: Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (4 films) and Lady Snowblood (2 films) which were key inspirations for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films. I recommend all six films highly; they’re full of familiar women in prison and revenge tropes elevated by expressive filmmaking and minimal yet powerful work by Kaji. For a different perspective on Kaji, but still within the Japan 70’s genre wheelhouse, I’d recommend her performance in Kinji Fukasuku's Battles Without Honor or Humanity II: Death Match in Hiroshima, which maybe a smaller supporting role, but does provide her the opportunity to play a love interest, and she’s as sweet in the role as she is vicious in the previously mentioned work.

Meiko was also an accomplished singer, and most of her films (as well as Kill Bill) conclude with one of her ballads on the soundtrack. For the harshness of her characters and films, there’s a certain fragile beauty to the music and her vocals, as if there’s a sliver of sorrow rooted deep down within her character’s soul that is only expressed via music.

Happy Birthday Ms Kaji, the siren of this here blog. Our thoughts are with you and your family, friends and country mates in Japan at this time.


le0pard13 said...

Very cool. I've seen about half of those films and they're all that you say. I love her rendition of Shura no Hana (but you should see the looks I get from my kids when I play it in the car). Either way, her birthday is timely, isn't it? You getting your KILL BILL vibe on, Colonel? Thanks for this.

Mummbles said...

I cannot say I know much of this lady but she looks cool and if she helped make those awesome movies you mentioned she ranks coolio with me.

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