So there's this blind swordswoman chick known as Oichi going around Japan and beating the crap out of the bad guys in samurai times, kind of like Maciste did with the Italians in the peplum films. This 'Crimson Bat' character has I'm sure appeared in countless films from the period but being rather unfamiliar with Japanese cinema, this is my first exposure to her. And, to be frank, I hope it's my only exposure, because WANTED, DEAD OR ALIVE is very much a ho-hum run-of-the-mill type movie, packed with only mildly interesting action and a dull story that makes you want to tear your fingernails out by their roots. You see there's this greedy magistrate bloke who wants to build a temple over a fishermen's village. The government gives him a huge wad of cash to hand out to the fishermen as compensation but he keeps most of it himself and gives them only a pittance. You can almost smell his type: middle-aged, portly and balding with an evil sneer.
Anyway into the scene comes this Oichi, as played by the very pretty Yoko Matsuyama. Matsuyama fits this role like a glove and is the best thing in the film, a fragile-looking yet deadly blind woman who's a big hit with a sword in more ways than one. She's totally convincing in the part and makes for a splendidly unorthodox heroine (I've seen blind swordsmen in the past, but a blind swordswoman is a turn up for the books). After freeing a trapped prisoner and breaking up an arranged marriage with a local bigwig, Oichi finds herself hunted by the magistrate and his men and with a reward on her head, so all the bounty hunters come out to look for her. Turns out that one falls in love with her but he has a secret of his own that you won't guess.
All this is an excuse for lots of controlled swordplay as Oichi effortlessly slices her way through dozens of guards and generally makes a fool of them all. Pretty violent stuff this, there isn't any blood but instead some wonderfully sticky slashing sounds each time Oichi makes a hit that had me wincing. The trouble is that aside from Oichi, none of the (mostly unlikable) characters are very interesting. The bad guys are bound to get their comeuppance sooner or later and play bad stereotypes whilst the good guys (a bunch of boring fishermen) don't take up arms until the very end and come across as a bunch of wimpish sods. The terrible dubbing doesn't help either, threatening at times to turn the whole thing into a mockery. These factors combine to make WANTED, DEAD OR ALIVE a film for real genre lovers only; anyone else is bound to have a hard time sitting through all the endless waffle and sword-swinging antics.