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  Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld The Flashing Blade
Year: 1973
Director: Toshiya Fujita
Stars: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Ko Nishimura, Miyoko Akaza, Eiji Okada
Genre: Martial Arts, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: One night in 1974, a child was born to a mother in prison, and named Yuki. Her mother, Sayo, had deliberately become pregnant by screwing the wardens and inmates of the prison, with the intention of having a child who would grow up to avenge her. She had been a happily married mother of a young son, until one day she and her family had arrived in a new village only for her husband to be mistaken for a killer of conscripts into the war, and he and her son were murdered, while she was raped. Four people were responsible for this crime, and they will all pay when Yuki (Meiko Kaji) reaches her twentieth year, and sets off to hunt down the evildoers...

Written by Kazuo Uemura and Kazuo Koike, and based on a Japanese comic book, Lady Snowblood is often cited as a major influence on Quentin Tarantino's revenge epic Kill Bill, but where that opus takes an undisguised glee in the killing and maiming, with Lady Snowblood it's entirely, deadly serious, to the point of of a morose, mournful tone. As Yuki, Meiko Kaji looks harmless enough in her kimono and impassive face painted white, but she's boiling with hatred inside, a hatred focused on four people. We find out early on that one of the four has already died, so Yuki's quest is diminished from the start.

The fight scenes are undeniably stylish, and there's no getting away from the excessive amount of blood spilled, but if you're just watching for the death scenes, then you may be disappointed. Most of the film is taken up with the vividly sketched characters, and once Yuki leaves her mentor behind, the man who has trained her since she was a little girl, a portrait of 19th century Japan is set before us, with its corruption and injustice ever-present. The first killer she meets is Banzo, who has endured nothing but misfortune since that fateful day, and now lives with his daughter, who unbeknownst to him has turned to prostitution to make ends meet.

The confrontation between Yuki and Banzo is a sad affair, not a grand fight sequence at all, defying martial arts movie conventions. After pathetically pleading for his life, the broken man is dispatched with one move by an uncaring Yuki, and dumped in the sea. The next man on her list has died, but when she visits his grave, she encounters Ryu, a right-on, crusading journalist who has his own newspaper to highlight the inequality of society. One of the most interesting characters, he embodies the consciousness raising morality of the film, and leads to the climactic showdown at a decadent ball where the Japanese upper classes are enjoying themselves with Western diplomats with little regard for the poor.

Before we get there, however, Yuki has to confront the sole woman on her list, which brings about the most dazzling sequence of violence in the film, where Yuki is set upon by the woman's henchmen. Limbs fly and blood sprays high into the air as Yuki blankly goes about her destiny, but there's a twist coming. As Lady Snowblood takes itself so seriously, the striking photography and various tricks such as introducing comic book panels help to break up the single note earnestness. Yuki is a heroine you admire, but despite the tragedy of her circumstances you don't really warm to her, she's like a pre-programmed automaton, doomed to carry out her mother's wishes. Still, her final cry of anguish is certainly a powerful moment. Music by Masaaki Hirao. Followed by a sequel the next year.

Aka: Shurayukihime
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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