You were born as a child of the netherworld…
As a big fan of samurai films (Shogun Assassin is one of my favourite films ever) I was always bothered by the fact that I had never seen the Lady Snowblood films. They’re right up my street, a female protagonist, a revenge story and lots of that thick, viscous, neon blood. When I spotted that Arrow Video had released the two films together, I snapped it up straight away. The boxset includes both Blu-ray and DVD versions, remastered with new subtitles, along with special features and the usual Arrow film booklet and poster card (I got What Have You Done To Solange? this time, I’m still waiting to get Society)!
70s Samurai Cinema is like a force unto itself. What a great period of cinema that was, these hyper violent, incredibly controlled productions had a freedom and wild unpredictability. There’s so many good, inventive camera tricks and sound edits it just really gets the blood PUMPING, you know? I’ll never sit down and watch an American Western (without a lot of complaining) but I am always down for some Chanbara, which deals with pretty much the same kinda themes.
|Lone Wolf and Cub aka Shogun Assassin|
This is where Lady Snowblood bursts onto the scene, an epic Samurai film with a female protagonist. A worthy adversary to any man that dares to cross her path, with a cold gaze filled with such seething anger it’s a wonder you don’t turn into actual stone when you’re watching her. Lady Snowblood is played by Meiko Kaji, an absolute extraordinaire of Japanese action cinema. Kaji also portrayed Sasori in the Female Convict Scorpion series (more coming on this on another day) along with a number of other killer female characters. She’s so legit it’s almost frightening. It’s hard to say whether Lady Snowblood would be half as successful without Kaji in the starring role. To convey so much emotion with your eyes, a mostly mute protagonist who still needs your respect and sympathy as she is slicing up men she has never even known.
|Meiko Kaji tho.|
The film is essentially a rape revenge film. Me and rape revenge films have a long, complicated history and to untangle all my conflicting emotions regarding the sub genre would take probably like, ten hours with a therapist. Even though they upset me, I still can’t stop watching them. So the good news is that even though this is a RR plot, it’s generally not exploitative (given it’s the 70s) and I never felt uncomfortable watching it. I mean like, I do wish scriptwriters could find another way to wrong a woman that doesn’t involve her being sexually abused, but I’m a lot more critical of films made today that invoke this plot device because really, EVERYONE SHOULD FUCKING KNOW BETTER BY NOW. Lady Snowblood is treated basically as an equal. She gambles, she fights, she is revered and hardly any sexuality is put on her shoulders. Not once does anyone laugh at her, or underestimate her strength (I guess that would be pretty hard when your mate has just been gutted next to you).
Technically, the film is so engaging and interesting. It’s full of flashbacks, sometimes animated, an off screen narrator (literally my favourite thing), these weird jerky camera zooms, the most beautiful cinematography and landscapes you could wish for and theatrics when you least expect them. The whole film keeps you on your toes, it honestly feels like it’s got a running time of twenty minutes. This is extremely important to me, the lady who cannot watch a film with a running time of 90+ minutes. The Arrow remastering has also come up super nice, especially the sound which really is exquisite and probably the best aspect of the film from a ~technical viewpoint~.
To address the elephant in the room, yes, Tarantino ripped off Lady Snowblood big time. It’s actually outrageous. It’s actually a travesty that he made Kill Bill, and then never even bothered to mention Lady Snowblood in it (Shogun Assassin gets a mention instead?). If you’ve had the pleasure of NOT seeing Kill Bill, please watch Lady Snowblood first and go into it with untainted, pure eyes. I get that there are homages, but when you’re entire plot and vision are centered on a film that came out thirty years before, I think I’m probably gonna call you a LAZY TWAT.
|Lady Snowblood vs Kill Bill|
Moving on to the sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance is a perfectly fine action film, but it lacks the spark. There is something missing from it that made the first one so magical. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still loads of fun, but it definitely feels like someone went “more tits, more bondage, less quiet reflection” and that’s what you get. But in that respect, how is that any different from most sequels anyway? It’s true saving grace is the score, which is totally synthy and dark and a pleasure to listen to. Gone are the traditional songs and in with this cool little electric composition. It doesn’t seem you can buy it anywhere though, which is a bummer.
Overall, I think Lady Snowblood is a perfect introduction to 70s Japanese cinema, especially if you’re a woman or prefer women protagonists. This is so engaging and gets you so invested, it’s a perfect jumping off point to explore samurai films more (kind of like how Shogun Assassin is the same because there’s a cute killer baby in it), whilst exploring if the genre is for you. Some people won't like the hyper gore, or the endless stretches of silence, but if you sit through a Winding Refn film then you should really have no problem whatsoever ;).
Lady Snowblood - A masterpiece, a five star film.Lady Snowblood 2 - Perfectly fine, but not a patch on the original.
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