Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime), made in 1973, was one of the movies that provided the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Unkind people might say that Kill Bill was in fact little more than a remake of this Japanese film. As usual you find that everything in Kill Bill that seemed fresh and innovative was in fact “borrowed” from the work of some other more talented film-maker, even including in this case the use of the interpolated anime sequences (Lady Snowblood uses a succession of still manga images, but the idea is the same).
Lady Snowblood is divided into four chapters, and follows the story of Yuki as she tracks down four murderous villains and exacts a bloody revenge on them. There’s a truly astonishing amount of gore. Not just buckets of blood, but oceans of blood. It has that combination of extreme violence and absolute stillness, of butchery and lyrical beauty, that only the Japanese seem to be able to achieve.
The movie is set in the late 19th century, at the time when Japan was modernising at an incredibly rapid pace and there was an enormous tension between traditional values and new western ideas. The role of Yuki doesn’t require great acting so much as it requires presence, and Meiko Kaji has presence in abundance. While this is an interesting and well-crafted movie I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much. The relentless violence and the obsession with revenge get a bit wearing. It does have surprising layers of complexity and richness, these being just about the only elements that Tarantino didn’t “borrow” for his version.
If you like extremely bloody samurai movies than Lady Snowblood will be right up your street; if you’re not into gushing fountains of blood and grim tales of revenge then I’d give it a miss.