Three Reasons To Watch: Modern Lady Gambler

Modern Lady Gambler is the story of a yakuza widow who wants to take revenge on the killers of her husband.


The year is 1972, the classical yakuza films are on the slow decline, leaving space for more modern violent stories like Kinji Fukasaku’s. But the Toei studios hasn’t given up on the classical approach, producing still some old school chivalry yakuza flicks, making only small changes to the formula.

Just like in the Red Peony series, the main character of this film is a woman, but she’s not that respectful of the underworld rules, she’s more interested in her revenge than being a good honorable gangster – in fact, she’d have seemed pretty happy to be the perfect wife of a yakuza boss. Hint, that may be Tai Kato’s old fashioned views resurfacing?

But while the main character may not be too attached to the traditional code, Modern Lady Gambler clearly depicts an underworld where these values are highly important. The gangsters are living accordingly to the code, either they’re loyal to their clan, or they follow their own feelings at their own risk.

And you can spot the clear differences between a true yakuza – knowing violence isn’t the answer – and a corrupted one – ready to do anything for power. It’s a solid and involving revenge story. It works just fine.

Getting tattooed, becoming a lady gambler!


As a director, Tai Kato creates an astonishingly beautiful piece of work. As usual, you can recognize Kato’s personal touch, the long takes, the low-angle fixed shots… But more importantly, he makes an incredible use of the settings.

He’s always playing with some visual elements, let it be smoke or windows, or take advantage of the deep of field. He knows how to use all that for narrative purposes, to insert nice ideas into the scenes. His sense of directing allows him to deliver quite dynamic sequences without even having to move the camera or edit his shots. Entertainment at its finest!

For instance, there’s this short dialogue scene, in which a yakuza boss is convincing another gangster to make a dangerous move – the latter one will slowly accept it: visually, his head will enter into the logo of the yakuza clan, which is on a window at the foreground. Right after that, while talking, the boss stands up, and opens the other part of that same window: the logo disappears, suggesting he may be not really care for the clan — watch the video below!


The direct consequences of his style? Modern Lady Gambler is filled with visual symbols that underline the sexual overtones of the story – after all, it’s about a woman whose husband has been taken away from her, someone/thing must fill the gap, somehow?

That’s why, visually, the film contains lots of windows & doors – frames within the frame, looking like a woman’s private parts? A train can often be seen, or heard in the background, with the smoke slowly appearing – like desires?

And yet, the film is openly violent – seriously, the final fight is a bloodbath! – but it does seem that Tai Kato is trying to bring a touch of naive romanticism to the story, which serves as a little reminder, this is a classical yakuza movie, indeed!

AKA Showa onna bakuto, 昭和おんな博徒

10 thoughts on “Three Reasons To Watch: Modern Lady Gambler”

  1. So far, among the best Tai Kato I’ve seen – along with this episode of Red Peony. The same gorgeous way to direct dialogues, to make them visually engaging, with very few cuts.

    Another beautiful scene from Modern Lady Gambler, when she’s becoming part of the “family” of the boss, with Tai Kato dividing the screen into different yet complementary parts – giving each character is own space to underline the fact, it is becoming a “home sweet home” (the only thing left to make it more real it to let the two main characters express their own feelings – ie. the smoke, the wall between them). More than nice, enjoyable.

  2. Glad to see you’ve also watched & enjoyed this 1972 yakuza film – that dialogue scene was quite the turning point of that story, that’s beautifully executed. Would you recommend any other Tai Kato? I know there was a retrospective in paris early this year, with many really rare titles to discover – no bootleg available for some of them.

    So, the original title literally translates as something like, “The Lady itinerant gambler of the Showa Era”? If so, the title of the english-friendly bootleg is pretty faithful!

  3. I enjoyed every one of those I saw.
    Between his take on the legend of Miyamoto Musashi and the one on Tange Sazen, his ninkyo (this Lady Gambler and the Red Peony Gambler movies he directed, his version of Theater of Life and its “sequel” Hana to Ryu…), Mabuta no Haha, Kaze no Bushi, I the Executioner,… , it’s really hard to choose ^^
    But if you must pick one, it has to be Blood of Revenge (Meiji Kyô­ka­ku­den – San­daime Shû­mei), THE ninkyo eiga.

    Unfortunately, most of them (including Blood of Revenge) are not subtitled.

  4. Thanks for your recommendations. It’s still tempting to watch these films, even with no subtitles. The mise-en-scene is so visually clear & powerful, it doesn’t seem to constitute such a problem to understand (or should I write, to feel?) what’s happening.

    I will post something later about I, the Executioner – darkish thriller, once again all about repressed sexuality, haha! – and I was fascinated by Kaze no Bushi. Well, story-wise it was a bit of a mess, but when the plot starts to finally kick off, it was Tai Kato happy hour – gorgeous shots, perfect use of studio sets, nice cinematography…

    And I’ve tried to watch his Musashi, but the screen format was disappointing – I had the impression to miss out half of what was actually happening. Hoping for a better copy to come around, patience…? (not too much, though 😀 )

  5. About Kato’s Musashi, you must talk about the english hardsubbed version which is pan&scanned. There’s another version available, a 2:35 one.

    (Makoto Sato is really fascinating in I, the Executioner.)

  6. OK, you’ve just made my day! This introduction itself is fantastic, Kato shows the aftermath of the Sekigahara Battle, putting the audience right in the middle of the battlefield, with (dead) soldiers everywhere. It’s no fun, it’s war.

    The uploader also made available this clip from Inju (1977)-obviously not the piece of crap directed by Schroeder few years ago. I know english subs are around, that may definitely be worth watching!

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