Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(Japanese with English subtitles)
Directed by: Toshiya Fujita
Written by: Norio Osada
(based on the manga LADY SNOWBLOOD by Kazuo Koike & Kazuo Kamimura)
Starring: Meiko Kaji, Ko Nishimura, Toshio Kurosawa, Miyoko Akaza, Eiji Okada, Sanae Nakahara, Noboru Nakaya & Takeo Chii
Story time. I’m not well versed in kung fu/martial arts films. I don’t dislike them, but I’ve only recently begun getting into these enjoyably ridiculous flicks. A self-described vulgar auteur cinephile friend (he’s a walking encyclopedia on martial arts movies and cult films) has been slowly introducing me to this crazy oddball genre. Brewvies, a local cinema pub, hosts a monthly kung-fu night that I’ve attended a few times in the past with this friend. He urged me that July 2016’s kung-fu night was a “must.” Besides this month’s selection being one of his favorite movies, it’s also unlike most of the other films that Brewvies has hosted for past kung-fu nights. July’s selection was LADY SNOWBLOOD and it’s truly a special movie in being an A-level flick that just happens to feature geysers of blood, an intense revenge plot, and enough artistic flair to spare.
Based on the manga of the same name, LADY SNOWBLOOD follows Yuki Kashima (Meiko Kaji) as she enacts a quest of bloody revenge. The reasons for her desire to seek blood-soaked vengeance? Yuki’s father was murdered by four tax-scamming criminals and her mother was cruelly abused by one of these thugs. Yuki was born in a cold prison cell and bred with the purpose of bringing violence upon those who destroyed her family. With one man already dead, Yuki has three remaining criminals left to find and will go to any lengths to make them suffer a bloody death. Yuki’s vicious quest becomes complicated when inquisitive reporter Ryurei (Toshio Kurosawa) takes a liking to her and a couple of criminals begin to suspect that she’s coming for them.
LADY SNOWBLOOD was a direct inspiration for KILL BILL (Lucy Liu’s villainess looks exactly like Yuki) and Quentin Tarantino went as far as to have the cast/crew watch this film on their down time. If a viewer didn’t know this info walking into SNOWBLOOD, it would become very apparent by the time the snow-laden, blood-soaked climax arrived. The film follows a non-linear storyline in its first third that’s akin to much of Tarantino’s work and lays out backstory for Yuki (a.k.a. Snowblood) and her family’s tragic past (I’ve only briefly touched upon her motivations for revenge). This non-linear introduction keeps the viewer hooked into the mystery of why Lady Snowblood wants vengeance and her crazy childhood training rituals.
The film’s style isn’t strictly limited to the first third of storytelling either, because the rest of the film oozes with artistic flourishes and thick atmosphere. The plot takes place in the late 1800’s Japan and though shot on a small budget, the movie has the feeling of a carefully crafted period piece. LADY SNOWBLOOD isn’t necessarily self-serious and grim all the way through though, because the action is insanely over-the-top and bloody as hell. Snowblood’s blade always seems to cut right to the artery, meaning that crimson geysers of bodily fluid frequently fly during the well-choreographed fight sequences. During multiple scenes, Yuki’s white clothes are stained with the red stuff. This high level of bloody violence and action make SNOWBLOOD thoroughly entertaining for viewers who might crave something more than stylish atmosphere and a compelling revenge plot.
Though filmed in 1973, LADY SNOWBLOOD still remains incredibly progressive even today. Yuki is among the most bad-ass heroines to ever grace the silver screen and actress Meiko Kaji has a piercing stare that can cut as deeply as her character’s blade. Meanwhile, Toshio Kurosawa plays Ryurei as a love interest, a sidekick and a frequent dude in distress with secrets of his own. One particular revelation legitimately surprised myself and every other gasping member of the audience. Though he has a small amount of screen time, Ko Nishimura is hilarious as hardened priest/abusive trainer Dokai.
The villains are all perfectly despicable and I rooted for them to die in horrible ways from the very beginning. It isn’t exactly hard to make rapists, robbers, and murderers into unlikable antagonists, but these baddies still manage to come off as uniquely evil in their own special ways. I won’t go into specific details for fear of spoiling anything, but a couple of bad guys are given more backstory than you might initially expect. One of them is even a tad sympathetic, making his death scene particularly grisly. However, the film’s best moments are saved for last in an action packed finale.
LADY SNOWBLOOD is hugely entertaining, dark, and stylish. The titular heroine is a bad-ass protagonist worth rooting for. The violence is as over-the-top and satisfying as revenge-fueled bloodshed can be. The plot twists are smart, believable, and unexpected. I found myself longing for SNOWBLOOD to continue after the credits began to roll, because I was totally captivated by its cinematic spell. Though the dark tone and extremely bloody violence may not be for everyone, LADY SNOWBLOOD is a captivating masterpiece in its own right!