Starring: Meiko Kaji, Kô Nishimura, Toshio Kurosawa
Director: Toshiya Fujita
Running Time: 96 mins
Lady Snowblood is a Japanese film about a woman who is born into a life of vengeance, as she hunts down the people who raped her mother and killed her brother and father.
As the film that proved the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, you’d expect Lady Snowblood to be a sleek and equally crazed action piece – and that’s exactly what it is. With an intriguing revenge story, a dynamite central performance from Meiko Kaji, and mesmerising cinematography to top it off, Lady Snowblood is a hugely entertaining and captivating watch right the way through.
Let’s start with the thing that really makes Lady Snowblood stand out, and that’s the stunning visuals, brilliant directing and dynamic camerawork throughout. Of course, this film is light years away from Kurosawa’s classic jidaigeki, but it presents a striking and equally unique way to present a similar setting and plot. While the cinematography in Kurosawa’s works are undoubtedly astonishing, there’s something even more eye-popping about Lady Snowblood, and that’s where it really proves most entertaining.
If you’ve seen Kill Bill, then you’ll know the sort of visuals that I mean, because this film is filled to the brim with vibrant and dazzling colours, whether it be the stunning pure white of Lady Snowblood’s robes, or the aggressively bright red of the spurting blood. On top of that, you have dynamic, exciting and energetic camerawork that brings both a great tension and entertainment factor to the action sequences, with fast-paced editing and shots that swish and swoop like the swords being used in battle.
Put that all together, and you have an absolute visual masterpiece that comes together in incredibly slick fashion, which combines brilliantly with the movie’s hyper-stylised violence to make for a thoroughly entertaining action piece.
It’s not all bright colours and spurting blood, however, as there’s also an intriguing and captivating revenge story that follows killing machine Yuki Kashima as she seeks those who brought tragedy and shame on her family decades before.
Now, I will say that the story lacks a little in the emotional depth and power needed to prove a really hard-hitting watch, as I never felt quite as deeply connected to the desperate quest for revenge that Yuki Kashima has spent her entire life pursuing, but that doesn’t mean that the tension, intrigue and unpredictability of a life-defining search for vengeance isn’t there.
All of that comes from the film’s brilliant non-linear structure, which not only gives you action right the way through, but also gives great depth and context to Kashima’s manoeuvres throughout, switching between the era when her family met with tragedy, her training to become a lethal assassin, and her long and arduous search for those that brought terror upon her family.
As a result, you have constantly shifting stakes and objectives that keep the film captivating and unpredictable throughout, rather than following a simple linear structure that would see a far more predictable arc, and the excitement of regular outbursts of action with stakes worthy of any finale, all of which makes up for a hugely entertaining watch at pretty much every moment.
Finally, there’s the lead performance from Meiko Kaji, which is absolutely mesmerising throughout. If you think Uma Thurman’s turn as The Bride was fantastic in Kill Bill, then you haven’t seen anything yet, because Kaji brings a stunning and terrifying gravitas to her character’s quest for vengeance. The screenplay may not quite help when it comes to bringing the same emotional depth to the table, but Kaji’s steely and striking turn certainly does, as she proves a thrilling lead to follow right the way through.
Overall, I really enjoyed Lady Snowblood. An exciting, vibrant and often manic action film, featuring a stunning central performance, an intriguing, unpredictable and cleverly-structured story, and exhilarating cinematography throughout, this is a hugely entertaining watch at pretty much every moment, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.