DVD/Blu Ray

The Valiant Red Peony (15) |Home Ents Review

Dir. Kosaku Yamashita, Norifumi Suzuki, Tai Kato, Japan, 1968-9, 291 mins, subtitled

Cast: Sumiko Fuji, Ken Takakura, Tomisaburo Wakayama

Review by Colin Dibben 

The first three films in a Japanese yakuza film series that has a unique difference: the protagonist is a woman. The first 2 films are a bit staid in their direction, but they set you up for the technical whizzbang of the third film. 

Set in the 1890s, during the Meiji era, the films are about the adventures of Ryuko Yano (Fuji), the daughter of a gambler. When her father is murdered, Ryuko takes on a new name derived from the crimson flower tattooed on her shoulder – Oryu, the Red Peony – and sets out for revenge. In the three films, she finds herself attached to different yakuza crime families and drawn into seeking justice for victims of violence. 

In each film she shares adventures with a lone wolf male who brings out her feminine side as well as helping her kick ass. Oryu is an honourable and stoic gambler and swordswoman, although she also wields a pistol. Her sense of honour is intensified by her feminine caring qualities – not aspects that are often on display in this sort of film. 

There’s a patient quality to her character and to Fuji’s acting that affects the pace of the first two films, which is a good thing or not, depending on your tastes. The third film uses several elements from Italian westerns, such as extreme closeups and strange angled shots, to give the action a breezier pace. 

The Valiant Red Peony: Red Peony Gambler I-III (Masters of Cinema) Special Edition Two-Disc Blu-ray consists of Red Peony Gambler, Red Peony Gamber: Gambler’s Obligation and Red Peony Gambler: The Flower Cards Game. 

Fuji would go on to play the Red Peony five more times, cementing the character as the archetype for many of the vengeful women to follow in Japanese cinema and beyond. These early entries in the Red Peony Gambler series are presented here for the first time ever on Blu-ray from brand new restorations of the original film elements by film studio Toei.


The Valiant Red Peony: Red Peony Gambler I-III comes to Blu-ray on 17 June 2024.