Although the name Meiko Kaji may be unheard of to many movie lovers her voice might sound awfully familiar. Taking the iconic role of Lady Snowblood in the movie of the same name where she hacks and slashes her way to vengeance she also sang the main theme Shura No Hana aka Flower of Carnage.
This haunting tune entered popular consciousness when a certain Quentin Tarantino used the song on his soundtrack to Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 alongside Kaji‘s equally famous Urami Bushi from the first role that made her a household name in Japan in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series.
A master of bringing cult classics to new generations Tarantino borrowed more than just the music of the great actress, explicitly and overtly citing Lady Snowblood and Kaji as a major inspiration not only for the look of Kill Bill’s O-Ren Ishii played by Lucy Liu but the films plot and even certain scenes such as the snow covered sword clash ending the first volume.
Luckily the resurgence of interest in Meiko Kaji and her work lead to a release of a strew of her movies on Blu-ray over the subsequent years from Arrow Video taken from various moments in her varied career which started in the 60’s including The Blind Woman’s Curse, Stray Cat Rock and the entire Female Prisoner Scorpion set.
Arrow also recently published Tom Mes’s excellent and insightful book Unchained Melody: The Films Of Meiko Kaji with 155 pages on the actress who defined a decade of cult cinema, creating an archetype of female strength that was equal parts ferocious and mysterious.
Mes is the perfect person to tackle Kaji’s story having written books on Japanese filmmakers Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto and also having helped found www.Midnighteye.com the world’s go-to website for any and all material on Japanese cinema.
It is his knowledge and extensive research into the Japanese film industry that sets the book apart from a simple celebrity biography meticulously conveying the movie making world around Meiko Kaji from her first film in 1965, when the studios where at the height of their powers, through the sensational 70’s and their downfall in the subsequent decades as the small screen took over taking Kaji with it.
Particularly interesting are the director profiles on figures prominent and pertinent to the actresses most successful and fascinating roles taking a close look at such greats as Lady Snowblood director Toshiya Fujita, the man behind Female Prisoner Scorpion Shunya Ito and Battle Royale helmer Kinji Fukasaku who cast her in his Battles without Honour and Humanity sequel Hiroshima Death Match, one of her most outstanding performances.
Perfect for people fascinated by the history and workings of the film industry, lovers of cult movies and Japanese cinema in general Tom Mes’s book is an easy read packed with information and insight into an actress who created two iconic figures but never allowed them to define or constrict her career.
Unchained Melody: The Films Of Meiko Kaji by Tom Mes is available now on Amazon and through the Arrow website HERE. You can read our reviews of Meiko Kaji’s films HERE and the rest of our 100 Pages of Horror by clicking the HERE.