Wandering Ginza Butterfly: She-Cat Gambler (1972)
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Writers: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi and Isao Matsumoto
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Sonny Chiba, Junzaburo Ban, and Tamayo Mitsukawa

The Plot: This sequel to the original Wandering Ginza Butterfly begins with a young woman named Hanae being transported in a van by a group of horny lunatics. They intend to take the young woman to her new home as a enslaved prostitute, but as they venture near a Hot Spring, Hanae takes off running and eventually crosses paths with Nami (Meiko Kaji). When Nami interrupts, she takes the young girl under her wing and goes to visit boss Okuma whom the girl was supposed to be contracted to. Nami, being a genius gambler, offers to play a game of cards for the girl’s freedom. Being the She-Cat Gambler, Nami of course wins, and this leads to her being wrapped up in a story involving Boss Okuma’s criminal organization as well as the man responsible for her father’s death.

The Review
While the original Wandering Ginza Butterfly was not a favorite of mine when I first started exploring the pinky violence genre, how could I turn down any sequel that offers Meiko Kaji in an extremely powerful role? Indeed, if the first movie shot itself in the foot by having an overly convoluted plot, it made up for it by having a very strong and charismatic performance by Meiko Kaji. Although I sometimes underrate the actress, due to her extreme popularity that overshadows many of the other truly great actresses from this era, there’s no denying the power and versatility that Kaji had. Much more capable in her diversity as an actress, Kaji could fit well into any role. Although she is most famous for playing the stern lead within the Female Convict Scorpion series, she was an actress who thankfully avoided being typecast. Indeed, her work in Wandering Ginza Butterfly shows an entirely different type of character than what many viewers have probably seen from the actress. Methodical and continually in control of her surroundings, Nami the Red Cherry Blossom is an unforgettable character from a unspectacular series. Despite my disregard of the series as a whole, this sequel does stand out a bit taller than the previous film. It does this because of its straightforward plot, better pacing, and the inclusion of one very charismatic Sonny Chiba.

There’s something very cool about gambling movies, isn’t there? Although I do not even know how to play poker, I have always loved movies that focus on gambling. From Paul Newman in The Hustler to Matt Damon in Rounders, a good gambling story offers great tension and strongly developed characters. There’s never time to explain every facet of a game to the audience, so instead the characters must bring the emotional depth in order for the game to have its drama. Although I have even less familiarity with the card game shown in She-Cat Gambler, it doesn’t matter because the same rules are at work in this movie. We have to be committed to the Nami character, and in this sequel I believe that most audiences will be. A character of virtue, she stands out in the corrupt gambling underworld where she tries to help out her fellow sisters that are being used and abused by the crooked yakuza infrastructure. She does this while also looking for the man whom she believes killed her father. If any part of the plot is actually weak, it is unfortunately this hunt for Nami’s vengeance. This is only mentioned once or twice during the first forty minutes of the movie, but during the third act it finally comes into prominence. Still, despite this subplot-cum-main-plot, the narrative is structured in a straightforward manner that allows for some fun performances, inventive visuals, and uproarious humor.

Humor is certainly a big part of She-Cat Gambler, and it is no better represented than with the stuttering buffoon that Sonny Chiba plays in the film. Known for his tough guy roles, Chiba is in rare form as the sniveling twerp that must continually be bailed out of trouble. Although he fancies himself a ladies man, he is often shown making a fool of himself in public. During our first real introduction to this character he even takes off his pants and tries to trade them for another hand at a card game. In another humorous scene we see him trying to lecture a group of prostitutes in the proper use of a bidet by having his right-hand-man Smokey sit on the commode and feign an orgasm when the hot water sprays his crotch. Even Kaji gets in on the humor throughout the majority of the movie, but as one might expect, most of the comedy becomes absent during the final twenty minutes. This is of course when the violence starts to double and murder becomes the primary motivation for almost every character. Although the movie does become quite serious, this is about as tame as the pinky violence genre gets. Nudity within the film is sparse and bloodshed is kept to a bare minimum. However, the movie still manages to stand out as a fine example of the entertainment that this genre can provide.

While it seems cliche to brag about the cast within the film, since it was packed with two genre film favorites, I was honestly quite taken back by the characterization brought to the table in this charged sequel. I’ve already detailed much of what makes Meiko Kaji such an arresting actress, but truly her best features are on display in She-Cat Gambler. She brings to the table a very relaxed and calculated character who still remains quite vulnerable. She is not as physical in this role as she was within some of her tougher roles, but instead her strength comes in her ability to calculate her opponents next movie. Taking her methodical abilities at card playing and interjecting them into a search for vengeance, Kaji brings a different level of “cool” to her performance as Nami. As mentioned, the physicality of Sonny Chiba is also toned down quite a bit in this role. Although there is a climactic battle during the back end of the movie, Street Fighter this is not. Instead, the movie is a much more conventional yakuza tale that manages to include some very modern nods to the audience of the time. Overall, these strong and humorous characters help take a conventional story and elevate it into a thoroughly entertaining piece of genre cinema.

The Conclusion
It can be argued that the Wandering Ginza Butterfly series doesn’t seem to follow the patterns that the rest of the pinky violence genre holds to, but when has any pinku subgenre been easy to classify? This is a girl boss movie through-and-through, but it simply has a bit more heart and a less-thuggish mentality. Highly entertaining and far more memorable than the first movie, I give She-Cat Gambler a four out of five. It is a high rating, but it earns it via sheer entertainment.