ady Snowblood" was, until the recent "Kill
Bill" by Tarantino, a relatively obscure 1973 female samurai
revenge film. However, since the inclusion of the songs "Flower of
Carnage" and "Urami-Bushi" (both sung by lead actress Meiko
Kaji) on the soundtracks to both of Tarantino's films, and his citing of it
as one of his main influences, both the classic original and the slightly
inferior sequel ("Lady
Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance") have earned new releases and
Fans of modern Japanese cinema
will be quite used to seeing sword-slinging female killers in films such as
Princess Blade", though "Lady Snowblood" as both a film
and a character is still very much the standard by which all others must be
measured. Beautifully directed, action packed and very violent, it contains
more memorable scenes and characters than most of its imitators put
together. Hopefully, the success of "Kill Bill" will inspire
viewers not only to watch "Lady Snowblood", but to appreciate it
not simply as a curio piece, but as an excellent, and indeed superior, film
in its own right.
The plot, set during a historical period of political unrest in Japan, is
revenge, pure and simple. After her husband is murdered, a woman is accused
of being a spy and thrown into jail. Consumed by rage, she sleeps with every
man she can, with the bloody-minded aim of producing a child who will enact
her revenge. Dying in childbirth, the woman gives life to Yuki Kashima
(Meiko Kaji), who becomes Lady Snowblood, the living embodiment of
vengeance. Twenty years later, having dedicated her life to deadly martial
arts training, Yuki sets forth on her quest, swearing that she will not rest
until she has slaughtered the villains who wronged her mother.
Apart from the use of the theme song, the influence of "Lady
Snowblood" on Tarantino's revenge films is blatantly obvious, with
similar training sequences, set pieces and even a voiceover-heavy narrative
that is divided into chapters. This is fair enough. I have nothing at all
against Tarantino or his films, and this is the only mention I'll make on
the subject of homage, inspiration, rip offs, or whatever.
Lady Snowblood herself is a fascinating character. Although purportedly an
instrument of death and violence, the film gives her a welcome injection of
personality and emotion, both of which serves to make her bloody quest more
interesting. Though her background is tragic and traumatic, the film makes
clear that it's her dead mother's revenge she is carrying out, and not her
own, allowing for moments of self-doubt and uncertainty. Similarly, although
she is a highly skilled killer, she is far from invincible, and this allows
the viewer to sympathize with her, if not identify. It helps that Meiko Kaji
is excellent, making the role her own with an intense performance that at
times conveys a tangible sense of barely contained violence through the
smallest of actions.
"Lady Snowblood" benefits from its historical setting and the
attention paid to the political nuances of the time period. The film has a
voiceover by a journalist named Ashio (Toshio Kurosawa, from the classic
"Water Margin"), who is investigating Yuki, and he provides plenty
of social commentary on the great changes that swept the country at the
time. As well as giving the film an interesting and realistic grounding,
this allows for a few moments of sly humor that lighten the mood somewhat.
Since the film has a fairly slow pace between the fight scenes, this is very
welcome and keeps things moving along nicely.
The direction by Toshiya Fujita (relatively unknown in the West apart from
the "Lady Snowblood" films) is excellent and at times beautiful.
The film boasts a rich color scheme, predominantly using deep red and cold
white, usually in the form of the film's common motifs of blood and snow.
The cinematography is gorgeous, and although the film does at times
look low budget, it provides an evocative and atmospheric look at ancient
The action scenes are excellent and well shot,
relying on short bursts of swordplay rather than extended martial arts
battles. The action is tense and exciting, and usually drenched in geysers
of spraying red. "Lady Snowblood" is a very violent film, and
there is a great deal of hacking, slashing and dismemberment, which is
bound to please fans of the genre.
"Lady Snowblood" is a classic, and deserves to be recognized far
beyond its value as an inspiration to the films of Tarantino. It offers
fans of martial arts and samurai films plenty of action, a beautiful,
tragic heroine, and a gripping tale of revenge, all set against a
fascinating historical backdrop. Though I'm sure we will see countless
more 'female samurai' films, I'm equally sure that "Lady
Snowblood" will stand the test of time far better than any of them.