The Blood Sword of the 99th Virgin (1959)

On my second tour of Japan, someone in Tokyo told me, “You sound like you’re from Osaka,” and I took it as a compliment. Then my friend told me, “That’s like someone in New York City saying you sound like your accent is from West Virginia.”

Magatani Morihei’s Kyujukyu-honme no Kimusume is set in the remote mountains of Iwate Prefecture, which in the same way my particular dialect of Japanese sounds so, well, Appalachian, this section of the country is pretty much the Ozarks.

Which brings us to another fact about Japan: they can be the most polite and racist people at the same time. While we were in Osaka, a truck with bullhorns was driving around giving political speeches about keeping Japan Japanese, not directed at gaijin Americans like us per se, but more Asian races like Koreans.

Iwate is the second largest prefecture in Japan, but also one of the least inhabited, being mostly mountains and those that live in the hills are seen as primitive people and discriminated against even by others in Iwate, much less the rest of Japan.

In this film, some of those locals have spent their lives making swords. Sadly, one of these swords is cursed and in order to appease their ancestor, they must continually kill virgins with it and bathe the blade in their blood.

There’s also the matter of the Fire Festival, which is a Shinto tradition. One of the most famous is in the Hokuriku Shinetsu region, which takes place every January 15. Villages carry torches to burn down a shrine, while the unlucky males of ages 25 and 42 defend the shrine or sing and chant respectively. The Fire Festival dispels evil and ensures happy relationships. The pro wrestling group Zero1 has also run a Fire Festival tournament from July to August every year, with the winner being given a ceremonial sword.

Well, the locals just won’t celebrate their festival properly. When hikers start getting attacked, the cops get involved, including Bunta Sugawara, years before he would be in the Battles Without Honor or Humanity series. Yoko Mihara, star of so many “pinky violence” films and movies with astounding titles like Girl Divers at Spook MansionBlackmail Is My LifeNude Actress Murder Case: Five Criminals and the infamous School of the Holy Beast, also appears.

The past of Japan — virgin killing rituals, witches and all — comes up hard against cops in helicopters with sniper rifles. This was a pretty controversial movie due to how it portrayed the mountain folk — it was never banned — so I was happy to see it.

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