If looks could indeed kill, then Meiko Kaji's piercing gaze should be registered as a weapon of mass destruction. Many actors are blessed with a specific physical attribute that sets them apart from the pack, but few have eyes as distinctively fierce and haunting as the optic orbs possessed by Kaji: her imposing strength in three continuing series of Japanese action films (among other individual appearances) rests largely in her take-no-prisoners, fearless stare.
Kaji worked only briefly in Japanese cinema of the 1970s, but she had the fortune to appear in several of its most enduring genre favorites. After only a few films, she hit stardom with her appearances in Nikkatsu Studios's girl-gang Noraneko Rokku (Stray Cat Rock)
series beginning in 1970. But it was two years later that Kaji became an international femme fatale icon who will forever live in infamy. Kaji took on the role of Nami Matushima, better known as "Sasori," meaning "scorpion," in Toei Studios's legendary Joshuu 701-go: Sasori
(1972) (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion
) series, adapted from a popular manga. The initial three entries, all directed by Shunya Ito, show Kaji at her best: a ferocious, beautiful, near-wordless instrument of violence and vengeance slicing her way through a delirious Pop Art landscape of stylized, colorful lighting, and kabuki-influenced set pieces. Ito left after the first three; the actress stayed on for one more entry, and then left.
Kaji is also famous for her roles in two period piece swordplay dramas Shurayukihime (Lady Snowblood)
(1973, 1974), which apparently inspired Quentin Tarantino
's Kill Bill
films (2003, 2004). Yet she opted to virtually retire during the heyday of her mid-1970s success. Also a singer, Kaji's music can be heard in the Kill Bill