Lady Snowblood will probably tickle the fancies of several groups of people, at least some of whom are Heroic Readers. Firstly, there’s the Kill Bill fans — this film provided Quentin Tarantino with a great deal of inspiration, both structurally and stylistically. Then there’s the SBS-watchers among us, who have a soft spot for the Lone Wolf and Cub series — this film shares a similar setting and style with those, too, minus the Baby Cart. And thirdly, there’s the bloodhounds who just like the occasional geyser of claret. Plenty here to go around.
The story is fairly simple; in the early years of modern Japan, a man is brutally slain and his wife tortured and raped by a gang of profiteers. These conmen (and one conwoman) are swindling common village folk out of their money, claiming that they can render them exempt from military service for a fee — and making a fortune doing it. Enraged at her husband’s killing and her treatment at their hands, this young widow decides to hunt them down and do away with them, only to end up in prison, unable to take her revenge. She resolves to become pregnant and have her child take on the burden of revenge for her.
Here things don’t go quite according to plan. Instead of a strong young boy (as she wanted), her child is a girl, who she names Yuki. Nonetheless, she is convinced that the child should grow up to take her revenge. Yuki leaves when she is very young to be brought up by a friend and a priest, as a “child of the netherworld”. Such a creature is bound not by human rules and desires, but by Vengeance — Yuki’s reason for being.
If this sounds dark and forbidding, it’s because that’s how the film is. This movie, like its protagonist, is unrelenting and completely focused. Yuki (known now as Shurayukihime) is a cold and unmerciful character, singlemindedly seeking out and destroying those who did such terrible things to her mother and her mother’s husband. That’s not to say that the film is simple — her targets have families now, too, and encompass quite a range of characters, some more and some less worthy of mercy.
Like Lone Wolf and Cub, the film has a distinctive style about it, with some lovely camerawork in parts and nice direction. The fights generally aren’t battle sequences, but quick affairs, inviting us to think more about other aspects of the story. That’s not to say that they aren’t bloody affairs, however — there’s quite a bit of dismemberment and fountaining blood, and stuntmen are given many opportunities to practice their bloodcurdling screaming.
The story itself is told in a nonlinear fashion, with several flashbacks and twists, which keeps what would otherwise be a straightforward revenge tale interesting. Meiko Kaji’s Yuki is really the only major character, and she does very well, balancing her trained killer persona with that of the traditionally dressed, parasol-carrying lady. Kill Bill‘s O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) is very much an homage to Yuki, and Eastern Eye have even been good enough to include a scene comparison between the two films as an extra on the DVD.
I enjoyed Lady Snowblood, though it’s a grimmer, more serious ride than the Lone Wolf and Cub films. It drips visual style, and the way the story is told remains interesting throughout the film, as Yuki’s quest becomes more and more complicated.