Lady Snowblood

by Erik Ruiz

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday April 15, 2007

Lady Snowblood

The 1970's Japanese action film, Lady Snowblood, manages to combine an engaging storyline with crude, but realistic action.

Set in late 19th century Japan, the film's storyline is slightly confusing and not explained in much detail. It centers around a woman named Sayo (Miyoko Akaza), who, along with her husband and child, was walking around a town where a quartet of con-artists were scamming the locals into believing that they could get out of being drafted by paying an exemption fee. At that time was a rumor that conscripts (people who forced citizens to join the military) would appear from time to time wearing all white. Unfortunately for Sayo and her family, her husband was wearing a crisp, beaming white teacher's uniform. Now whether the con artists knew he was a teacher or thought that he was an actual conscript isn't clearly explained in the film. What is clear though, is the graphic way in which they killed Sayo's husband and her son, a sequence filled with spurts and rivulets of candy-red blood.

Sayo, after being gang-raped by three of the men and laughed at by the female of the group while the act was occurring, one of the men takes her as his consort when they each go their separate ways. One night, while her captor was forcing himself on Sayo, she shoves a long sword through his back in a beautiful scene of vengeance.

While serving an apparent life sentence for the murder, Sayo knows that the only way she can fulfill her vengeance is to have a child that'll carry out the act for her. So after sleeping with a seemingly large number of guards, she finally gets pregnant, but dies while delivering "Shurayuki-hime" or Lady Snowblood (later played by Meiko Kaji.) Before she dies, she calls the baby "a child of the netherworld," since Shurayuki-hime was only born to wreak a dark kind of vengeance.

After being cared for by one of Sayo's inmates, Shurayuki-hime (or Yuki as she's called for most of the film,) is sent to an eerie reverend who teaches her the art of the samurai sword, as well as other insanely powerful fighting/evasion techniques. When her training is finally complete, Yuki goes on to fulfill her dark but just purpose.

In much the way a sparkling diamond inspires a jewel thief, Lady Snowblood captured the imagination of Quentin Tarantino who used it for the basis for his Kill Bill films. Some of these similarities between this film and the Tarantino duo include camera angles (like the one used to show Uma Thurman's point of view as she looks at her attackers in KB,) storytelling through manga (Japanese comics), temporal shifts, use of chapters in the storytelling, and a fight scene that is extremely similar to the one between Thurman and Lucy Liu's henchmen (the crazy 88) in KB.

Although I can go on and on about how much KB rips off of LSB, I think it would do the film an injustice to spend the rest of this review comparing it to its mediocre remake.

While LSB stays true to the action genre, Yuki isn't only an executioner. She also manages to be a complex and human character. The true challenges in the film for Yuki aren't really physical, but rather emotional. As she goes through her quest of vengeance, she finds that some of those who wronged her mother also have connections to others who care about them. For example, one of the men has a daughter that loves him dearly, which gives Yuki a serious dilemma as to whether or not to kill him.

The film also shows how powerless women were at the time. Although the film does focus on an extraordinary and powerful woman born to kill, it also acknowledges that her mother was barely able to get a fraction of the job done and had to feign nymphomania in order to ensure that her goal was accomplished.

LSB is a film that not only stimulates the eye with realistic fight scenes and unique camera angles, but also the intellect with its interesting take on vengeance in the usually male dominated genre of revenge films. Also, unlike other revenge films, violence in LSB isn't used to just shock or impress viewers, but rather to show the underlying motivations for each character that uses it. This is seen especially in scenes where Yuki has to crush her humanity in order to fulfill her vendetta.

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