Bloodiest Flower
Director: Motohiro Torii
Year: 1971
Rating: 5.5

Aka - Nihon jokyo-den: ketto midare-bana

I have to admit my expectations were high going into this because it stars those often paired actors, Junko Fuji and Takakura Ken, who have been in some wonderful action films together. And the title has the word "Bloodiest" in it - at least the English title. So imagine my surprise and disappointment to discover that it was a melodrama about coal. Coal. Mining for gold, diamonds or oil can be exciting but coal? Only Trump could get excited about digging up coal. This is the third Japanese film that I have seen lately that had coal as a part of the narrative. They all take place in the late 1800's when after a few hundred years of isolation Japan had opened itself to the outside world and realized how far behind they were technically and went into a 100 yard dash to catch up. And they needed coal. Lots of coal.

Tei's (Junko Fuji) husband is obsessed about opening a coal mine and neglects her and his business. He buys a mountain for 300 yen. I expect the yen was worth a lot more back then. And begins to burrow but it comes crashing down on him and kills him. Now a widow, Tei decides against the advice of everyone to keep the mine going. A woman running a coal mine? That just wasn't done. And when she goes to ask for miners from a fellow owner, he tries to rape her. But one of the boatmen who transports coal is standing nearby and intervenes much to the discomfort of the others. This is Koji (Takakura Ken) who is later attacked by all these men and has to kill a few. And for that he sent off to jail for 8 years. Tei continues to struggle with making a go of the mine over all those years.

So where does the Bloodiest come into play? At the very end when Koji is out of jail and events force him to take that long lonely walk with a song playing in the background. He is headed for revenge of the best kind - up close and bloody. But it was a long time coming if that is why you came to this film. The rest is nearly all melodrama with the two of them clearly in love but unable to say so and the villain slowly putting on the pressure to break her. At 147 minutes it is a good 15 minutes longer than most of the types of period films from Toei and it feels like it at times. I also admit that I am a Junko Fuji action fan and seeing her in such a subdued traditional role did not hit my pleasure zone. I kept waiting for her to take out a sword and get down to business but she never does. And bonus points if she does it in a kimono. Still it is always enjoyable seeing these two actors on the screen together. The ending shot is a little bit poignant - years later a train hauls the coal away - the boatmen are no longer needed - progress is coming to Japan.