Director: Sadatsugu Matsuda
Starring: Yoko Matsuyama, Chizuko Arai, Jun Tatara, Isamu Nagato
With the amazing popularity of the Zatoichi Blind Swordsman films, it is no surprise that there would be similar productions hoping to benefit from the audiences’ desire for more. Enter Crimson Bat, a film featuring a blind swordswoman. Hoping this small variation would be interesting enough to get moviegoers into seats, Crimson Bat proved popular enough to earn four films. So is this film just a knock-off of the storied Zatoichi franchise, or does it have enough to stand on its own two legs?
Abandoned by her mother as a child, Oichi (Yuko Matsuyama) finds herself blind and without help. Taken in by a kindly old man, Oichi has a safe upbringing until, unexpectedly, her guardian is murdered. With her next to be killed, she is saved by a traveling swordsman who takes her under his wing, teaching her the art of the sword and using her blindness as an advantage. With deadly skills in tow, Oichi roams the land taking odd jobs and searching for her chance for revenge as the Crimson Bat!
Offering a solid turn in the first film of the series, Matsuyama handles her action well and though it is obvious she isn’t a Katsu or Wakayama, there is enough there for movie magic to fix believably. Her dramatic scenes are much better actually as many problems women of the age faced are decidedly more precarious than a man would ever have to navigate. Well cast is the actor who plays her teacher and ronin. He has some good action and decent screen presence. The rest of the cast goes through the motions but these types of films are sometimes made or broken by their supporting cast and there just isn’t enough there to throw your support behind. They are all general types you’ve seen in other films before and while a safe choice for the first film in the series, it makes it all seem more derivative than necessary.
Crimson Bat is a decent late 60s-era swordplay film hampered by its similarities to the better produced and more endearing works by Katsu Productions. Certainly worth a look, and better than I was expecting, it perhaps succeeds too well in referencing the aforementioned series, making the shortcomings that much more evident. When taken as a singular film, it is ultimately forgettable. But hopefully, when viewed with the others in the series, it can find enough unique about it to stand out.