1972 (both of them)
Part One: 95 mins. Part Two: 86 mins.
DVDs released by Synapse Films
What Yamaguchi has done with his Butterfly series is sidestep the regular victim-to-heroine storyline and put us up front with a tough woman who suffers no fools. While not technically following the basic formula for an Avenging Angel film, I argue that these films still work within the genre and should be considered some of the best ever made.
WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY
To her astonishment, the widow of the man she killed pleads for her early release. She is so moved by this, Nami begins to work as a hostess in a club (brothel) and offers much of her earnings to the widow, who is too ill to work.
Along the way, she begins to build a life within the club, befriending the owner / madam. When the Yakuza decides to call in their debt, the madam has no choice but to accept their demands. Nami must step in to save the madam.
What is so great about this film is the patient timing and eventual payoff. While I expected a typical rundown of horrible things done, then retribution handed out liberally. Instead, what is special about this film is the measured tone that Yamaguchi has. The film is completely under his control, each moment being carefully put together to build a case for Nami. At the same time, I love that the climactic scene near the end of the film takes place at a billiards table. This scene is so great. Yamaguchi's editing provides a great tension and gravity.
The pacing may seem a bit slow for a film like this, but Yamaguchi sets it all up perfectly. It almost has that same vibe as Unforgiven. Though the final moments are drenched in blood, until that point, Nami's fate seems entirely up to others. But, when she does finally take matters into her own hands you can tell there is absolutely no way she will accept defeat.
WANDERING GINZA BUTTERFLY 2: SHE-CAT GAMBLER
Part two begins in a van. You know that's always a bad sign. I mean, really. Outside of that cool van that your uncle tooled around in when you were young, have you ever seen good things happen in vans?
The van is full of ladies in the back. Said ladies are being transported to Yakuza HQ for assignment to a wretched life of prostitution. The woman sitting in the passenger seat (Miyoko) wants none of that, so first chance she gets, she puts a foot into the driver's noggin and makes a run for it. Unlucky for her, she's kind of slow and runs funny. Lucky for her, Nami stands atop a bridge watching the water go by when this scene happens upon her.
Nami hands these three men their asses and takes Miyoko into her custody, thus starting her troubles with the Yakuza in part two.
The tone and pacing of part two is a bit different. Where part one is moody and has a bit of a plodding pace, part two is brighter, funnier and moves along more briskly. It's also got Sonny Chiba, which pretty much means its awesome no matter what.
Nami has become a professional gambler, and is damn good at it. She works her way into the Ginza gambling scene, making friends with Ryuji (Chiba) as she goes. When the Yakuza starts getting greedy and demanding control, they mess with the wrong duo.
Synapse is a company that seems to know exactly what they want and they do it right. The transfers on these films look gorgeous. Colors are bright and the prints are cleaned up beautifully. They also have great artwork, with reversible cover art being the original posters for the series (shown above). Interviews with the filmmaker and trailers, etc... You can't go wrong with these. And, who else would have put them out?