Described by many as the ‘epitome of beauty’, Meiko Kaji was in her twenties and early thirties a breathtakingly beautiful and talented actress and singer. She became best known in Japan and to the rest of the world for her intense portrayals of strong, ferocious, and mysterious outlaws in Japanese exploitation cinema. This essay zooms in on the revenge films in which she starred throughout the first half of the 1970s.
In 2003 and 2004, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill martial arts action films hit theatres around the world to critical acclaim and commercial success. The films were partly inspired by the roles of Meiko Kaji in Japanese exploitation films of the 1970s, leading to a international revival of interest in her work.
Described by many as the ‘epitome of beauty’, Meiko Kaji was in her twenties and early thirties a breathtakingly beautiful and talented actress and singer. She became best known in Japan and to the rest of the world for her intense portrayals of strong and mysterious outlaws in Japanese exploitation films like the Lady Snowblood and Female Prisoner Scorpion revenge sagas in the early 1970s.
Kaji shaped and perfected the film character of the quiet and mysterious, yet deadly outlaw gifted with incredible fighting skills. Her strong-willed female outlaw persona was unique and ground breaking, and became a template for others following in her footsteps. To Japanese audiences as well as film aficionados abroad, Meiko Kaji was the female outlaw. Combining stunning beauty with acting talent and perseverance, Kaji’s contribution to Japanese, and indeed world cinema, is worthy of remembrance and celebration.
This essay is a homage to Meiko Kaji. Following her career as icon of Japanese exploitation cinema, it focuses on the revenge films Kaji starred in in the early 1970s. Rather than offering a comprehensive overview of her work – which spans hundreds of films and television series – the best known, most intriguing, and most readily available films outside of Japan are discussed. Attention is also given to Kaji’s singing career and television work.
Keywords: Meiko Kaji, exploitation cinema, Japanese film, music, revenge