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Lady Snowblood (JAPAN 1973)

aka Blizzard From The Netherworld / Shurayuki Hime

Director: Fujita Toshiya
Cast: Kaji Meiko, Kurosawa Toshio, Masaaki Daimon

A woman gives birth to a baby girl while in prison. She tells her fellow inmates that her daughter must take revenge for an attack on herself and her husband by a gang of five which resulted in her husband’s death and her own unhappy life. The baby girl, Yuki, grows up and is trained in sword-fighting techniques . Her aim in life is single-minded – she must track down the four people who destroyed her mother’s life – and
gave her the only reason for her own: to kill.

by Martin Cleary

Whatever you think of Tarantino’s recent Kill Bill, its success has meant that some of the little known (in the west at least) films that ‘inspired’ that film have had some dvd releases, and Lady Snowblood is among the best of them. The films plot is fairly simple – a woman gives birth in prison and dies. Before she passes away she tells the other locked-up women that her daughter has only one reason in life: revenge. We then find out what has happened to cause this situation – the woman’s husband was murdered and she was beaten and raped by a group of five. After managing to kill one of this gang herself, she was sent to prison. In the prison she whores herself out to any man available so that eventually ends up pregnant – with the aim that he child will revenge her dead husband and her own sad demise. The film follows this daughters training and eventual attempt to revenge her parents.Of course, it all gets a bit messy.

For such an old film Lady Snowblood doesn’t seem very old fashioned. It’s a tale of revenge which is very bloody – chopped limbs and gushes of blood – and if the story seems tired, it’s actually told in a fairly original way. Told in chapters (like Kill Bill) these story moves at a slow pace but you know each small part will have it’s own climax – so there’s never to long to wait before a new development. The film also incorporates an extended scene where the story is told via illustrations (the story is based on a bestselling manga, and this is a technique which is also ‘borrowed’ by Kill Bill, albeit in an animated style) and it’s with this mixture of storytelling techniques that the film seems quicker and more lively than it actually is. Which is of course a good thing. The lovely Kaji Meiko plays Yuki, otherwise known as Lady Snowblood, otherwise known as the crazy bitch out for revenge. For the most part Yuki’s un-expressive face manages to reflect all kinds of anger as well as a real sadness. Watching her facial expressions really translates this sense of untrust. The film looks amazing, contrasting all sorts of wide camera shots with close-ups, incorporating the landscape as well as close-ups of faces and with the added use of the weather (she isn’t called Snowblood for nothing), Lady Snowblood pulls you into it’s narrative.

Again, Tarantino nicked some of the framing ideas and compositions of shots, and you can hardly blame him because they’re so effective. For an example of this, simply see the scene where the group are looking down on Yuki’s mother – laughing and smirking at her – and you get a sense of the way this film works on a ‘back to basics’ level. Lady Snowblood seems to reduce themes, character and camera shots to a primitive level, it’s only flourishes are the way the story is told. The action is also handled very well – swords swing leaving gushing blood and all sorts of detached limbs – while maintaining an ironic beauty. Blood on snow (like her name) is quite beautiful, but disturbing. Despite it’s b-movie plot, this is a film which is full of style.

Lady Snowblood – Blizzard From The Netherworld is an excellent revenge-flick and all-too an obvious influence on some contemporary cinema. It’s not the most subtle film, but it has a huge amount of character and is still a step above the average hack-and-slash revenge story. It’s one of those films that surprises you at how good it is and almost begs for a repeat viewing. If this review seems to compare the film to Kill Bill too much, then watch this film and you’ll see why – Lady Snowblood is superior in many ways.

Plot : 3/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 4/5
Overall : 4/5

Notable Scenes
- The opening encounter (and great theme tune)
- Training by rolling down a hill in a barrel (?!)
- Yuki corners one of the gang on the beach
- The bloody conclusion

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Lady Snowblood

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