It’s been some forty years since Meiko Kaji first sprayed gore across the snowy ground as she was introduced to the world in Shito Fukijawa’s cult hit Lady Snowblood (1973). The film, based on a manga comic of the same name, went on to spawn one sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1975) and to inspire Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked Kill Bill films. Now, Fukijawa’s films are being released in high definition courtesy of Arrow Films.
Set in the Meiji era Japan, Lady Snowblood follows our titular warrior, Yuki (Kaji), as she embarks on a quest; to kill the thieves who raped her mother and left her to rot in a women’s prison. As Japan goes through tumultuous changes and begins its transition toward becoming the country that it has Yuki is only able to look back. Born into the world with the express purpose of avenging her mother, she is trained by a priest and then sets out her her quest for revenge.
After her appetite for blood has been sated, Yuki attempts purely to avoid the authorities in the sequel, Love Song of Vengeance. When she is arrested, she is offered a deal that will see her set free again, to go into the home of a dissident, Ransui Tokunaga (Juzo Itami), under the cover of being a maid, and to kill him after stealing a secret paper. When Tokunaga reveals that he knows who Yuki is, she becomes embroiled in his political fight against the corrupt government.
Stylishly shot and full of blood spraying from slashed necks, shoulders and stomachs, Lady Snowblood is a thoroughly enjoyable and arty exploitation flick which has deservedly gone on to become a cult hit. Kaji is beautiful and deadly as Yuki, the perfect blend for the genre, and she carries the films well. The influences, particularly of the first film, on Kill Bill are more than a little obvious with it’s non-linear chronology and generosity with the crimson gore. The second film is slightly less successful than the first, in so much as Yuki’s personal journey has ended and so it is a little more formulaic and at times, a little watered down – though there’s a great moment where she takes a policeman’s eye out.
If you’re a fan of exploitation or Japanese cinema, then the Lady Snowblood movies are certainly worth checking out and we’re treated to another great ass-kicking heroine from Kaji alongside her role as Matsu the Scorpion in the Female Prisoner films.