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The Complete Lady Snowblood

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jan 26, 2016
The Complete Lady Snowblood

Ever heard of Lady Snowblood? I'll confess that I had not - even though she's the creation of "Lone Wolf and Cub" writer Kazuo Koike and a major influence for Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films.

Viewed now, both "Lady Snowblood" (1973) and its sequel, "Love Song of Vengeance" (1974) feel like forerunners of the Wuxia films that captured the imaginations of American moviegoers starting with Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) and continuing even today (though with less mainstream ardor now than greeted films like Zhang Yimous's Jet Li vehicle "Hero" from 2000 or Yimou's 2004 follow-up, the stunning "House of Flying Daggers").

In both the manga comics and the film version, Lady Snowblood is an "asura demon," a supernatural entity born into this world for the express purpose of seeking revenge. The crime is horrific: A young family is murdered by four lowlifes who seize on anti-government sentiments as an excuse for their actions. Though the mother's life is spared, she is raped and otherwise abused by the gang; when she takes revenge, she's thrown in jail, where she has sex with a guard in order to have a child that will grow up to avenge her and her murdered husband and son.

Things go according to plan, and Lady Snowblood (Meiko Kaji) is born. After a lifetime of training, she is ready to accomplish her mission. Using a sword hidden inside the handle of her parasol, Lady Snowblood faces off with any number of male thugs and bodyguards, hacking her way toward the satisfaction of finding and killing each of the four criminals who destroyed her family.

The cinematography by Masaki Tamura is grandiose, even though this is clearly a production with a limited budget; the sets look fake, and so does the gore, but the sheer amount of blood spilled in this film - and its eye-popping vivid red color -- matched by the sound of bubbling brooks as literal streams of blood gush and torrent - give the film a wild sort of energy, and the 2K transfer and restoration job does justice to the color palette and sometimes surreal lighting scheme.

The story is told in pieces, with flashbacks and action set-pieces alternating, which gives the film a sense of suspense and mystery; there's a story bundled in with all that swordplay and mayhem.

The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of "The Complete Lady Snowblood" also contains "Love Song of Vengeance," which is given the same meticulous treatment. The sequel is less compelling than the original - it has an episodic feel - but if you came for the action you'll stay on for more of the same.

The films are presented with uncompressed monaural soundtracks. Kazuo Koike appears in an new interview, in which he delves into the creation of Lady Snowblood (and reveals that one source of inspiration for her was none other than Snow White!). Norio Osada, the screenwriter who adapted the manga comics to the screen, is also interviewed. The subtitles are a new translation, which is probably a good thing (though I have not seen the films using the original subtitles, I have seen plenty of films from the same era that used translations that were... shall we say... a tad wobbly). A long and fascinating essay by pop culture critic and writer Howard Hampton is also included.

This release is for more specialized tastes, but fans of the genre will come away more than satisfied.


"The Complete Lady Snowblood"
Blu-ray
$31.96
https://www.criterion.com/boxsets/1154-the-complete-lady-snowblood

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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