Quentin Tarantino has always been open in citing the film as a huge influence on the first Kill Bill, but witnessing the copious amount of limb slicing, identical visual cues and chapter structuring here, director Toshiya Fujita should have received a creative consultant credit at the very least. Like Kill Bill, revenge is also overriding theme here but there’s a purer and altogether more outlandish attempt at addressing the ideas of retribution and justice.
In 17th century Japan a young family are accosted by a vicious gang of criminals. The father and son are slain, while the wife is subjected to a gang rape by the males of the group. Tracking down and murdering one of her attackers, she’s promptly caught and thrown into prison. Under lock and key, and takes her scheme to another level and begins to do her utmost to conceive behind bars, with the intention of giving birth to a child whose sole purpose is to carry on her mission.
Following some seriously unorthodox pre-pubescent training, said child grows up to be a beautiful young lady (Meiko Kaji, who’s striking otherworldly appearance is a key ingredient of the film) with a penchant for killing and a love of deadly trap-laden umbrellas. She comes to learn however, that the settling of scores can be messier than the attacks she unleashing on her targets.
With a fantastic score that flits between the heightened melodrama of Bernard Hermann and a looser, groovier Lalo Schifrin-esque vibe, this is a film which delivers on the uber-violent “roaring rampage of revenge” we’ve now become accustomed to in contemporary action cinema. But there’s also a real artistry amongst the carnage. From the gripping Sergio Leone-inspired showdowns, to some beautifully composed shots and remarkable uses of tele-zooms, this is a visually sumptuous treat.
Never one to shy away from an almost balletic display of blood-letting (it must have sent the UK censors into a spin back in the day) Lady Snowblood perfect encapsulates the kind of classier brand of exploitation film which QT has championed throughout his career. This is the chance to see a splatter classic in an immaculately presented format (Arrow should be congratulated yet again in providing a stunning transfer) and it’s the perfect primer for younger cineastes interested in witnessing an early example of extreme East Asian cinema.
The sequel which is also included in this pack (Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance) doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of its predecessor, but it has the distinction of featuring the most enthusiastically performed toe job in cinema history. The gore is ramped up considerably this time around too (there’s a torture scene to rival the work of modern master Takashi Miike) and the political elements are a welcome addition, but overall, it lacks the narrative precision and simplicity of the first film.
Extras – Trailers of both films are provided, as is a brief, but highly informative history lesson of Japanese genre cinema from UK expert Jasper Sharp, entitled Slicing Through the Snow.
Lady Snowblood (4.5/5)
Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (3/5)