“Lady Snowblood” – Daniel Matusov

Gushing blood, spilled guts, dismembered limbs, and a whole ton of brutality. This film has it all…for those who want it.

In my circles, I am certainly known to eschew a certain type of cinema much like this one: Japanese and violent. It simply doesn’t appeal to my nature, and that is not at all a judgment call. The reason I mention it is because there is something irresistible about this film, regardless of its quality on face value. To sum it up, I surprisingly enjoyed it.

Lady Snowblood opens with the cries of a newborn child, a child born in an environment of pain and suffering. The child’s mother is in a prison (I will not mention the reason for the sake of not spoiling things) and times are rough in Japan’s Meiji period. Let’s just say that white was not slight, people wearing it would expect a fight…everybody laugh now.

Part of what makes the title so interesting, though, is that contrast of death and innocence, which is what Lady Snowblood’s journey can most fruitfully be described as. The image of blood on snow is one almost certainly deeply imbedded in our minds by Kill Bill, and not surprisingly it is quite prominent here (especially in the final scenes of the film). This film really begins with Lady Snowblood traveling through a place marked by feathery white snow, and blood-spilling ensues. You could just envision the Lucy Liu/Uma Thurman showdown from that beginning, and yet I tried not to. About as quickly as anything could happen, Lady Snowblood starts getting violent — an entire arm is lopped off, and blood starts jetting out from it. With an initial smattering of death, so begins this bloody journey of miss Lady Snowblood.

The film pegs Lady Snowblood — real name Yuki — as a propagator of good, a caped crusader, however, without the cape or crusade. She stands up for the terrorized victims of one village, but it turns out that she has an ulterior motive. While Yuki makes her living as an assassin, her primary objective is to find the group of people responsible for the brutal imprisonment and torture of her mother, Sayo. Raised by an old master with revenge in sight, Yuki sets out to kill each and every single member who was associated with her mother’s suffering.

Starting to sound a little like Kill Bill yet? Yuki faces various opponents; some beg and plead for mercy, and others simply just fight. It is actually incredible just how much of the story and stylistic elements of this film were infused into Tarantino’s vision, and yet he was able to make a film radically different (and arguably better, to boot).

Lady Snowblood is funky; I really have no other way to describe it. From the total ‘70s sound effects to the way the close-ups are established and the non-linear story progression, comparison to Tarantino’s work is inexorable. The film is unmistakably a child of the ‘70s, as mentioned earlier, but for all its goofy attributes, it holds on to a very serious side full of moral anguish. One can’t help but see Tarantino as gently lampooning this picture to make it a gram more appreciative of its off-kilter nature. Tarantino elevated what I view a fairly regular (if a little too serious) genre flick with good pacing into epic entertainment with a more clearly defined moral center. I find it particularly difficult to review such a film because it is not really a picture meant to be reviewed. Nothing particularly groundbreaking or exciting pervades throughout the film (at least in this day and age), and yet it managed to hold my interest as a revenge flick. I reiterate that I would feel completely foolish mentioning something like montage and acting in a review for this film simply because it’s a revenge film that is just like any other.

The one significant “philosophical” component that makes this and Kill Bill stand out is the very complex notion of revenge as a two-way street, with an eye for an eye leaving the whole world blind. It’s an interesting point to make, and one that too many revenge films never even mention. I guess the reason why I am being so facetious about Lady Snowblood is because Kill Bill improved on it in just about every way (in my humble opinion), but that’s what happens when Tarantino sets out to “unofficially” remake a film. The quality jump is inevitable, but for what this film was, it certainly wasn’t bad — and that is saying something considering the fact that I rarely end up enjoying these films when I do watch them once in a blue moon.

Rating: ★★½☆

-Daniel Matusov

Daniel Matusov enjoys daydreaming of becoming a real Hollywood screenwriter, currently working on that perfect spec that is probably everything but perfect. He also enjoys hot dogs very much; it’s a Hollywood thing.

Read A.J. Hakari’s Lady Snowblood review here.

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