Okomo, The Orphan Gambler
Director: Tai Kato
Aka - Onna Toseinin
As Fuji Junko and Tsurura Koji walk slowly through a light snowfall in the
hours of dusk towards a climatic ending against hordes of Yakuza bad guys,
a mournful song breaks out "They are like two fallen leaves, blown together
by the wind". These two iconic Ninkyo eiga actors, who were often paired
together in a flurry of action films in the 1960's, send a bit of a chill
up your spine. You know a lot of deaths lie ahead. So many of these films
end in a similar way but they always satisfy a need within the audience as
the whole film has led up to this moment.
In theory, this is another female gambler film but in fact there is only
an iota of gambling that takes place near the beginning. It is instead a
wonderful mesh of the melodramatic with spurts of action and dollops of comedy
along the way. And of course Fuji Junko who is always so serene, so polite,
so perfectly made up even as she kills with gun or sword. She was a huge
star back then in these types of films (the Red Peony Gambler series is a
favorite consisting of eight films) - I am not even sure if she made films
in contemporary settings as everything I have seen her in is a period film.
Though the melodrama seems more than a bit calculated - a long gone mother,
a little girl, a loving father who has to say goodbye - it works really well
because everything is so restrained. Both of these actors are the masters
of never showing emotion other than with their eyes.
We first meet Okomo (Junko) on a dirt highway as a carriage comes her way.
She stops it and announces very politely to the people inside "I am Hayami
Koma also known as Tsumakou Okomo. I have no grudge against you Boss but
I am here to kill you by the Yakuza code". She is an independent Yakuza but
still with obligations within that world. Her mother was sold into a brothel
to pay for debts when she was a young girl and her father killed. She was
brought up by a Yakuza boss and now is wandering the countryside looking
for her mother who she can only identify by a birthmark on her wrist. At
the inn she sees a young girl on her own who is waiting for her father to
return who like Okomo is a professional gambler. This turns out to be Tsukuba
(Tsurura) who is soon asked by a Yakuza boss to fulfill an obligation and
go on a suicide mission - kamikaze - from which he doesn't expect to return
and so asks Okomo to please take his daughter to her grandparents in a far
off town. And so sets in action a reckoning.
Directed by Shigehiro Ozawa, who later directed three of the Street Fighter
films as well as one of the Sister Streetfighter films, shows a very delicate
hand here - never rushes the story - touches on a lot of cultural aspects
- but allows the emotional core to build up. It is beautifully shot with
great sets. There was one sequel titled Bitter Tears of a Woman Gambler that
I hope I can track down one of these days. Fuji Junko was to retire in 1972
when she got married which perhaps was just as well - hard to picture her
in the trashy female action films that were to become popular - but she returned
to acting in 1989 under the name Sumiko Fuji. She was in one of my favorite
films - Hula Girls 2006 - but I don't think I realized that when I saw it.
She is still acting.