Starring Meiko Kaji, Ko Nishimura, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Juzo Itami, Yoshio Harada, Shin Kishida
Directed by Toshiya Fujita
Screenplay by Kazuo Uemura & Kazuo Koike
Duration: Lady Snowblood – 97 mins. Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance – 89 mins
Reviewed by Guy Adams
I am of the Western generation that took Japanese media to heart within the mainstream. I can remember the slow infiltration of Manga from a dusty corner of the comic shop to its own large section and finally onto the high street in chain bookstores. We had Akira and we loved it hard.
I confess the cult passed me by at the time, I wasnâ€™t a great fan of animation and my comics tastes were firmly Western. I also didnâ€™t have the disposable income necessary to shell out ten pounds for a video that contained a 25 minute feature.
I later fell in love with the absurdities of Neon Genesis Evangelion (when my wallet was fat enough to experiment) and the work ofMiyazaki and Studio Ghibli is pure magic. Still, Japanese live action cinema (in fact martial arts movies in general) remain a dead area in my education.
I saw Kill Bill though… Well, the first movie, my list of people Iâ€™m willing to watch masturbate for four hours is shamefully long but Quentin Tarantino certainly doesnâ€™t feature on it. He has made no secret of the fact that his movies were heavily influenced by this pair of Japanese revenge pictures and the debt owed to them is clear even to me with my limited exposure.
Lady Snowblood is a relatively simple picture, the title character born in prison, a vehicle for revenge against the atrocities suffered by her parents. She tracks the perpetrators down and slices them up for their crimes. All this plays out in a surprisingly sombre, dour fashion. So much so in fact that the bloodletting, when it happens, feels somewhat out of place. Blood spurts with immense pressure in the world of Lady Snowblood, the slightest penetration of flesh causing bright scarlet arcs to pump skywards in a way that will certainly remind British viewers of Monty Pythonâ€™s â€˜Salad Days as directed by Sam Peckinpahâ€™ sketch. Itâ€™s as if all humans are nothing more than a sack of Kensington Gore, a balloon just waiting to explode at the tip of Meiko Kajiâ€™s katana.
The pace is surprisingly slow and the movie relies a little too much on narration, breaking the storytelling rule of â€œshow donâ€™t tellâ€ for much of its length. That said itâ€™s shot so beautifully and some of its set-pieces – most particularly the snowy confrontation near the beginning – are so lovely it would be churlish to complain. It has a dreamy, fable-like quality that is addictive and compelling, and itâ€™s easy to see why the film has developed such a devout crowd of devotees over the last forty years.
Arrowâ€™s disc also contains the sequel, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance which, personally, I found the better film. It hits a more even balance between exposition and visuals and relishes its exploitation roots with more conviction. Released from the linear plot of bumping off a short list of wrongdoers, we have a story that engages our attention a little more and manages to throw a few surprises into the mix.
There can be no doubt that this HD Blu-ray will be eagerly awaited by many long-standing fans but it also deserves to be sampled by others who, like me, come to the movies without previous knowledge. Both films have a great deal to offer and they have been restored and packaged beautifully with Arrow offering both a lavish booklet as well as an interview with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp which places both films in context.
Beautiful, dreamy, grotesque in all the right places and with a soundtrack that sounds like Ennio Morricone on a night out at a Sushi restaurant, Lady Snowblood comes highly recommended.