Known for her fashionable modern style, long black tresses and piercing gaze, the inimitable Meiko Kaji rose to the top of the Japanese film industry in the late 1960s and '70s, working with some of the era's most talented filmmakers to create several now-classic genre film archetypes along the way—from hard-boiled girl gang bosses to kimono-clad, sword-wielding assassins.
Japan Society celebrates the iconic star, who turns 70 in March, with an action-packed prelude to Valentine's Day, full of female rebellion, ice-cold vengeance and tough love. Guest curated by writer and producer Marc Walkow, Cruel Beauty: A Romantic Weekend with Meiko Kaji screens five films Friday-Sunday, February 10-12, highlighting a selection of Kaji's most memorable roles.
In addition to the International Premiere of New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Boss's Head, the series includes early star-making appearances in Blind Woman's Curse and Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, as well as selections featuring her iconic characters in Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance and Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable.
In his program notes from the series, Walkow writes: "Japanese movie stars don't get much more iconic than actress Meiko Kaji. Born as Masako Ota in Tokyo on March 24, 1947, Kaji's history is sadly one of being continually misunderstood by the studios which employed her. Originally groomed as a matinee idol at Nikkatsu in the '60s, she instead found fame there as the leader of a hard-boiled girl gang, riding motorcycles and brawling tooth-and-nail with both men and women. She moved over to Toei in the early '70s, again miscast as a replacement for recently-retired period film star Junko Fuji, who had embodied a different kind of beauty and strength throughout the '60s.
Before long, however, Kaji once again found her place as an outlaw character, this time as a nearly-silent, icily violent female prisoner who unwillingly becomes the leader of a rebellion against the patriarchy. Having found fame, Kaji once again defied industry expectations and passed up further star turns in favor of working with talented filmmakers in supporting roles, preferring to take her work as an actor more seriously, as well as devote much of her time to her own private life. She remains an inimitable presence in Japanese cinema, and an icon who continues to inspire filmmakers and audiences around the world."
Though all films are later episodes in popular series, they stand on their own and can be enjoyed without familiarity with preceding episodes. These films contain a considerable amount of violence, nudity and graphic depictions of sex typical of the genre, and are recommended for audiences ages 18 and over.
Admission: $13/$10 seniors & students/$9 Japan Society members. Special offers: All Access Pass (1 ticket for each film in the series, 5 tickets total) $50/$35/$30; Double Feature Pass (2 different films in the same transaction) $22/$16/$14. Tickets may be purchased online at www.japansociety.org, in person at Japan Society, or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258.