Queen of Karate

The Japanese poster for the 1975 film 13 STEPS OF MAKI: THE YOUNG ARISTOCRATS.
The Japanese poster for the 1975 film 13 STEPS OF MAKI: THE YOUNG ARISTOCRATS starring Etsuko Shihomi.

Most of the famous icons of Japanese action cinema of the 1970s are usually male stars but there are a few exceptions. The best known is easily Meiko Kaji, who enjoyed a double career as a popular singer and film actress whose most famous movies inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004). She built up a cult following with a quintet of girl gang features – the Stray Cat Rock franchise (1970-71) – and then moved on to greater success in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series (1972-73) and two genre classics, Lady Snowblood (1973) and Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974).

The Japanese poster for the 1970 film STRAY CAT ROCK: DELINQUENT GIRL BOSS starring Meiko Kaji.

The only other Japanese actress from the same period to rival Kaji’s track record is probably Etsuko Shihomi, who first attracted attention in a supporting role in The Street Fighter (1974) opposite martial arts legend Shin’ichi Chiba aka Sonny Chiba. Shihomi followed this up with her breakthrough feature Sister Street Fighter (1974), which proved to be such a hit that she made four sequels to it while appearing in other action flicks with her mentor Chiba. But probably Shihomi’s wildest and least seen movie is Wakai Kizoku-tachi: 13-Kaidan no Maki (English title: 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats, 1975), which should have spawned a series but also feels like a homage to Kaji’s Stray Cat Rock series.

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Don’t Mess with a Vietnam Vet

Among the slew of Hollywood movies that followed in the final days of the Vietnam War and used that as the subject, Rolling Thunder (1977) is a fascinating aberration. On the one hand, it flirts with serious issues and societal problems addressed in such post-Vietnam dramas as Coming Home (1978) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) but it is also a violent revenge film that exploits a Vietnam veteran as an avenging angel.

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