Quick-Draw Okatsu (1969) is the second film in Toei’s Legend of the Poisonous Seductress trilogy. The first film, Female Demon: Ohyaku (1968), was directed by Yoshihiro Ishikawa, who is best known as the director of two superb Kaidan films; The Ghost of Otama Pond (1960) and Bakeneko: A Vengeful Spirit (1968). Ishikawa was an apprentice/assistant director at Shintoho to the legendary Nobuo Nakagawa on such classics as; The Depths (1957), Poisonous Woman Takahashi O-Den (1958), Black Cat Mansion (1958), The Woman Vampire (1959), The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959) and Death Row Woman (1960). Nobuo Nakagawa would thus sign on for the second and third installments of the Poisonous Seductress films; Quick-Draw Okatsu (1969) and Okatsu the Fugitive (1969), replacing his former assistant in the directorial chair.
Nakagawa’s masterpiece Jigoku (1960) was the film that finally sent Shintoho, a company always knocking on the door of financial ruin, into bankruptcy. Nakagawa would work sporadically after the company’s closing, leaving feature films behind for a while until he resurfaced in 1968 to direct the brilliant Snake Woman’s Curse. Snake Woman’s Curse has much in common thematically with his definitive version of the much-filmed The Ghost of Yotsuya. After Okatsu the Fugitive; Nakagawa, would not make another film until 1982, helming the beautifully rendered Kaidan film, The Living Koheiji.
The reasoning behind looking at the movies of this trilogy separately is because they’re not continuations of the previous films. Each film is a stand-alone affair, but the latter two do borrow heavily from the previous films’ narratives. Ohyaku is given a name change in the second and third films to Okatsu. Junko Miyazono plays the lead in all three films and is changed from a fatherless, daughter of a prostitute in the initial film, to a virtuous avenger, in both of Nakagawa’s films. In Female Demon: Ohyaku, the Ohyaku character is born to a mother who is described as having no luck with men. When she becomes exasperated by her life’s course, she takes her own life by throwing herself and the young Ohayaku from a bridge into the rushing waters below. Somehow, though, Ohyaku survives the jump but sustains a nasty scar on her back. That scar is a constant reminder of her past and within it lives her mother’s memory, and her body mutilation is seemingly the marking of the daughter of a whore. She becomes renown for not only her tightrope walking skills but also for her exquisite beauty. One night two men appear to forever alter the emotional course and direction of her life. One is the self-entitled Lord Senguko, who is a top man at the local mint. And the other, a man named Shinturo, who while initially planning on using her tightrope walking skills to help him and a rag-tag group rob the mint, decides against it when he falls in love with her. Sadly, though, Ohyaku is not to find happiness with Shinturo, whom she has also fallen in love with, because of the evil, conniving, rapist desire of the self-entitled Lord Senguko.
Female Demon: Ohyaku depicts a world populated by the self-entitled bureaucrats and the common men and women who mire in oppression. With a rapist mentality rampant among the officials, Ohyaku takes a stand as not to be used anymore for her body. Shinturo is killed by the lord and Ohyaku is sent to a notorious prison to die. She must manipulate her way through various scenes of distress in a bid to extract her hellbent revenge. She thus begins to unleash her ferocious revenge, leading up to the ending, where she triumphs against not only those males who feel entitled and abused her, but even the bureaucracy itself that kept the lower classes, (which she belonged to) suppressed with overbearing oppression. One can look at two films that helped shape the narrative of Female Demon: Ohyaku, those being Irezumi (1966) and Red Peony Gambler (1968).
Irezumi is based on the novel Shisei (The Tattooer) by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, starring the acclaimed actress Ayako Wakao and directed by Yauzo Masumura. In Irezumi, a woman named Otsuya (Ayako Wakao) is kidnapped to be sold into prostitution, but before this can happen, she must be tattooed first. A spider with a menacing human face is tattooed on her back. Ohyaku is also given a tattoo on her back of a demon; both films note how the skin of the recipients of these tattoos is most exquisite. In each film, the woman is desired and lusted after, and each is raped while still being bound by rope. Other plot devices are lifted, including the playing of a husband and a wife against other, along with the revenge angle. The women in each film though are living their lives in opposite trajectories; Ohyaku, the daughter of a whore, is trying to leave her past life behind, even though she is told and even believes that a daughter of a whore is a whore. Otsuya leaves her middle-class life behind to run off with a man who is below her social status, seducing him with sex and affection and continually pushing him to the edge of moral bankruptcy. After Otsuya is tattooed and sold into prostitution, she begins to enjoy the lifestyle and just like the man-eating tattoo on her back implies, she lures men into her web of deceit, using them for financial gain and destroying them in the process. The film series that also had an obvious effect on the Female Demon: Ohyaku is Red Peony Gambler, starring the legendary actress Junko Fuji as the daughter of a yakuza who wonders around righting wrongs. In the first installment of the eight films; Red Peony Gambler, Ryu (Junko Fuji), after the murder of her father and the dismantling of the clan, goes out on a course set for revenge. What the Red Peony Gambler lends to Female Demon: Ohyaku is a strong, triumphant female character, who while at times in need of the assistance of a man, is equipped to cut and slash her way to that stated goal of revenge. Red Peony Gambler let the female character walk off in the end, emotionally alone, but a victor in her quest for revenge.
Quick-Draw Okatsu, while borrowing from the first film, is emotionally inferior and negates the gender triumphs at the conclusion. That’s not to say that Quick-Draw Okatsu is not a superior effort; while the first film pulled the heroine from a misogyny hell to allow her to defeat the power of the ruling class, in Quick-Draw Okatsu her triumph is lessened slightly by the inclusion of a bounty killer, who allows her to escape a perverted justice at the conclusion. Also thrown into the mix is a mysterious woman who comes to Okatsu’s aid repeatedly. Okatsu is the adopted daughter of a master of the sword named Makabe. She was raised by the Makabe family after she was found along the river, giving the film a connection to the first film and Ohyaku’s mother’s suicidal plunge into the river. This provides the viewer with a possible alternative reality to the first film, and what alternatively could have happened to Ohyaku if things had turned out differently. Okatsu learned her lessons from her father and has also become a master of the sword, changing gender roles with her brother Rinturo, who is lazy, slacking on his lessons and has gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Rinturo is accused of cheating, having been lured into the gambling house by men working for the Lord Shozaki so shame can be brought against Makabe. Rinturo thus has brought shame to the house and Ohyaku assumes the role of a man by saying she will take the punishment for her brother’s crime. Makabe, a man of honor, will not allow Okatsu to accept the punishment due Rinturo. He arrives to take the punishment from the lord and his men and is brutally tortured, including having his eyes poked out. Just as in the first installment, the Ohyaku/Okatsu character is raped by the man who had been smitten with Okatsu’s beauty for some time before he sexually assaulted her. He asks her to follow him to his new post in Toyko, if not she is to be killed. Okatsu is aided by a mysterious woman named Rui who arrives countless times to help her escape numerous situations. A bounty hunter is also thrown into the mix, played by the legendary Tomisaburo Wakayama of Lone Wolf and Cub fame, who uses a pistol in place of the traditional sword. The crux of the film is the same as the first film and that is a woman possessed with the desire to seek and kill those who brought harm to the people she loved.
The course of the Okatsu character is emotionally distinct from the first film. In Quick-Draw Okatsu, we are presented with a woman of virtue and honor, who is subjected to the same atrocities visited upon her, as was Okyaku. Why was the character revamped from the daughter of a whore to an adopted daughter of an honorable man? This was possibly to follow more along with the other honorable yakuza female characters that sprang forth after the success of Red Peony Gambler. Or because, in its role reversal, it was decided that to allow the character to succeed and defeat the men at their own game was not in accordance with the historical gender roles within Japanese society. Quite possibly another reason behind the change in the character’s background was because of the uncategorical movement of female characters springing forth at that time. Japanese cinema, to the point of this infiltration of women changing not only their social roles but also gender roles, had mostly only allowed women to appear as wives, mothers and prostitutes. That’s not to say that females did not traverse into other film roles, but the majority did stay confined to those categories. Of course, the pinky violence films of the 1970s would turn the whole gender issue upside down.