Famous Japanese actress: Meiko Kaji from Tokyo is in a different league
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Many modern female actresses in Japan appear to be on a conveyor belt and being slim, pretty, and looking gentle, is in vogue. Visually this may appeal to many people in Japan but it is difficult to take their roles seriously because the conveyor belt of “pretty and boring” is not lighting up the imagination.
If you take a trip down memory lane and look at the natural style of Meiko Kaji then she is a different kettle of fish. Meiko Kaji looked like a woman going places and her stunning looks alongside a rugged look and eyes that would melt the heart was very different.
Meiko Kaji in her prime would put the current actresses in the shade and they would not even be shadows on the screen because all eyes and attention would be on her.
Meiko Kaji was born in 1947 but initially her name was Masako Ota and her path did not go easy in the early period. She was born in Tokyo and with the 1960s in full swing these cultural changes in Japan and throughout the Western world would change the needs and demands of the general public.
From 1965 to 1970, Meiko Kaji had built up a lot of experience but she had not hit the heights. In the Alleycat Rock series her importance was starting to grow but often the scripts would let her down despite the open creativity of the director Yasuharu Hasebe.
The films she was involved in were based on juvenile girl gang issues and open confrontations. Clearly the investment and filming locations had limitations but Meiko Kaji could play these roles because she had her own style unlike the fresh crop of modern actresses.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s it was clear that the pink film market was lucrative. Therefore, with the sexual appeal of Meiko Kaji it meant that she could have moved in this direction given the social pressures of the day within the film industry.
However, true to her stunning looks, she had her own ambition and she was no “yes lady” therefore she kept her distance from the seedier side of the film industry.
The big breakthrough for Meiko Kaji was the Female Prisoner Scorpion series under the director Shunya Ito because these films made her popular throughout Japan. These films played to her strengths because her sexual appeal alongside a strong looking lady who was in control was a piece of cake for Meiko Kaji.
However, when Toei decided to change the director to Yasuharu Hasebe from Shunya Ito then this upset the applecart and displeased Meiko Kaji. Therefore, she decided to change direction and leave the series despite the popularity of these films.
The film Lady Snowblood in 1973 opened up a new audience because this film would gain a cult status in Western cinema. The revenge driven nature of this film and the follow up influenced Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
Again it is difficult to imagine the fresh crop of female actresses being able to play roles like this because of their lack of creativity and power.
The film Yakuza Graveyard in 1976 and Sonezaki Shinju in 1978 added to her power base and she won several important awards in the film industry.
Meiko Kaji also sang on several soundtracks and since the 1980s she remains active and often appears on television.
If we look at the fresh crop of actresses then clearly “the conveyor belt system” does not lead to strong female characters and the majority are replaceable because they look visually the same and squeaky clean to boot.
Meiko Kaji in her prime would put them into the shade and out of the picture. Therefore, the likes of Masami Nagasawa, Kyoko Fukada, Nanako Matsushima, Ryoko Hirosue, Miho Nakayama, Fujiwara Norika, and a host of others, look rather typical and if sweet and boring is your cup of tea then you will enjoy their charm.
However, the charisma and stylish looks of Meiko Kaji were something else and added to this is her strong personality which shines brightly and her roles were believable.
If Meiko Kaji was part of the new generation then it is feasible that she would be rejected because she does not suit “the conveyor belt of pretty but boring.”
Meiko Kaji hit the heights in the 1970s and like the male actor Clint Eastwood; she was a loveable rogue and could carry the show by her own raw talent.
The revenge babe was a sight to behold and clearly Japan needs to unearth “a new Meiko Kaji” in order to break the conveyor belt system.
Meiko Kaji’s flame still burns bright after all these years later and looking back on her career then just like the actress Claudia Cardinale; then images of a seductive lady comes to mind but this image is wrapped up into a powerhouse of a lady who would not compromise nor flicker from the bumpy road ahead.
Alas, in modern Japan the actresses lack individuality, raw sexual appeal, and the “kick ass” power babe is no more. However, like the phoenix it is hoped that a new Meiko Kaji will be found but within her own style and image.
After all, you only have one Meiko Kaji and this power packed lady is badly missed. Modern actresses are like Toyota cars, all too predictable. However Meiko Kaji was the classic Jaguar car and this applies to her awesome power and exquisite beauty which was wrapped up inside a mysterious spirit.
http://www.flixster.com/actor/meiko-kaji-photos (photos of Meiko Kaji)
http://ameblo.jp/meikokaji/ (official blog of Meiko Kaji – in Japanese)