LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973) – The Dungeon Review!

The opening paragraph of my reviews usually includes a little blurb about how I came to choose the film in question. I almost hate to get into this with Lady Snowblood as it means discussing a North American film and its director. This film came to my attention via Quentin Tarantino who cited the film as his inspiration for Kill Bill. I am a big fan of Tarantino’s films, particularly Reservoir Dogs (in my opinion, one of the best films to come out of the last 20 years). Tarantino is a walking encyclopedia of film knowledge and speaks often of films he enjoys and admires. I will say however that I was surprised to see just how “inspired” Tarantino was by Lady Snowblood. The characters stories of vengeance are similar, which I fully expected simply based on the films name. But the similarities don’t end there. Both films are broken up into chapters, have confused chronology with constantly shifting timelines, animated sequences, and there are even a few shots that looked as though they were reshot identically. Obviously Lady Snowblood’s distributors were more than happy to associate themselves with Mr. Tarantino’s film as the DVD’s cover boasts that the movie soundtrack contains the song “The Flower of Carnage” (Shura No Hana) featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. I actually loved Kill Bill and these similarities by no means dimish my enjoyment of Tarantino’s film. Let’s just call it an observation, this is afterall a review for Lady Snowblood.

As you can likely ascertain from its title, Lady Snowblood features a female protagonist who is out for bloody revenge. The film tells the story of Yuki, a beautiful master swordswoman born into the world solely for the purpose of revenge. Raised by a priest skilled in the Samurai arts, his relentless and grueling training regiment from childhood has prepared her for a life dedicated to killing without mercy. The timeline jumps back and forth from past to present covering Yuki’s journey from birth to present and her unfortunate family story. Yuki’s mother witnesses the death of her husband and young child. The murdering bastards (and one bitch) enslave her and use her for sex until she finally has enough and stabs one of her captors to death. She is imprisoned for life and can no longer avenge the death of her husband and child. She devises a plan to get pregnant and has sex with every creepy guard in the place. Eventually she becomes pregnant with Yuki, the instrument of her vengeance. What a delightful way to bring a baby into the world. And the gals in the prison didn’t even throw her a shower! It’s a bleak story to be sure, but vengeance isn’t always pretty.

Lady Snowblood has loads of style and some very imaginative techniques are used to compliment its story. Photo montages, animation, black and white and color film mixes, and graceful yet ruthless violence. Yuki’s weapon of choice is a sword hidden inside an umbrella. She deals her justice swiftly, cleanly and with a considerable amount of gracefulness. The blood that spills is bright red and there is plenty of arterial spray to make for some colourful and messy deaths. Pacing is steady and the violence is in well-distributed chunks throughout the film. The films narrative is quite straightforward and even with the timeline jumping back and forth it never once gets convoluted. There are even a couple nice little twists towards the end.

Yuki is a woman of few words. She has very little dialog but is a fascination to watch. Yuki is cold and composed while exacting her duties but she also has much empathy for the human race. Along her travels she meets the child of one of her soon to be victims. She meets the young woman one day as she stands on the edge of a cliff throwing woven baskets into the sea. She never explains to Yuki why she does this, but Yuki nonetheless takes pity on her. Yuki does most of her emoting silently but much can be learned from her by just watching. She is referred to often through the film as a child of the netherworld. A no-man’s land, a place where the undead roam, but she is clearly a woman who does feel pain, loneliness, sadness, empathy and love. She is a wanderer of sorts who was brought into the world for the sole purpose of vengeance, which doesn’t leave much room for being human. The entire cast is very good; particularly the likeable Toshio Kurosawa who plays Ryurei Ashio, the writer of an independent newspaper that speaks for the people.

While the violence is bloody and dramatic Lady Snowblood had less exploitative elements than I was expecting. For starters, Yuki keeps her clothing on for the entire film! I must admit, I cannot recall another 70’s Japanese flick with a lead female protagonist (or antagonist) that does not contain sex and nudity. Granted, my exposure to Japanese cinema of the 70’s is fairly limited. Of course, now that I’ve seen Lady Snowblood I can’t wait to see its sequel! Lady Snowblood is a beautifully filmed gem that employs a number of interesting and creative techniques; it has excellent performances particularly from Meiko Kaji who plays Yuki, and a wonderfully bleak and fascinating vengeance story and a generous helping of the red stuff courtesy of Yuki’s deadly sword. Highly recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5

Directed By: Toshiya Fujita

Starring: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Miyoko Akaza, Shinichi Uchida, Takeo Chii, Noboru Nakaya, Yoshiko Nakada, Akemi Negishi, Kaoru Kusuda, Sanae Nakahara, Hôsei Komatsu, Makoto Matsuzaki, Hiroshi Hasegawa

9 Responses to “LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. Great review! You’ve captured the character and the action quite eloquently.

    If you liked Lady Snowblood, you should try the Lone Wolf and Cub series. The films are full of samurai and some exploitation. The early films are the best.

    Both Lady Snowblood and Lone Wolf and Cub are based on manga although I hear mixed things about the Lady Snowblood one.

    And yes, Kill Bill 1 is just brilliant.

    • Thanks Genki Jason, it is easy to talk up a film when it’s this good! I loved it!

      They actually had trailers on the Lady Snowblood disc for two Lone Wolf and Cub films and I ended up putting LW&C: Sword of Vengeance and LW&C: Baby Cart to Hades in the queue. They work with my 70’s theme too!

  2. Really interesting review. I wasn’t aware that this was a huge inspiration for Kill Bill. I haven’t seen the film but I’m definitely going to seek it out now.

  3. Shit. I gotta see this. Tarantino required everyone involved with Kill Bill to watch this and Coffy and some other genre classics. Going on the queue immediately. Good review, yo.

  4. The Film Reel Says:

    Those pics certainly make the film look pretty. I’m not usually one for bigger Asian action flicks but it sounds as though this one has a lot going for it. Might be worth a look.

  5. Yeah I included this in my top 10 Asian Revenge films list, it is one HELL of a film and I can’t tell you how awesome it is that you have your own Japan section on the site now!

    • Yep. Lady Snowblood is so freaking good! I’m pleased I finally have enough titles to give Japan its own category!

  6. […] recently watched Horrors of Malformed Men (review pending) and Lady Snowblood I am reminded that the Japanese have had a long love affair with over-the-top scenarios and […]

  7. […] I am unable to comment on how faithful the film is to its source material. Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood and Lone Wolf and Cub had successfully been adapted for film so I guess they figured to cash in on […]

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