It’s good to know that in the early 1970s, exploitation cinema was pretty much the same all round the world, offering audiences the requisite ingredients of beautiful girls, nudity, action, fights, and often quite a bit of blood as a result. Anyone preparing to watch 1973’s Lady Snowblood or its sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance should be warned that they are not going to encounter the kind of delicate high wire acts of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or the gorgeous colour pallets of House of Flying Daggers. The only colours prevalent in Lady Snowblood are white (because of the snow) and red (and if you don’t know the reason for that then you’re probably in the wrong place anyway). But what else would you expect from a distribution company that just before this had wrapped shooting on Godzilla versus the Smog Monster?
Despite the cultural differences that might make it difficult to enjoy an early 1970s Japanese exploitation film set in that country’s nineteenth century, fans of this sort of thing will certainly feel at home by the end when the Pakistan flag is on view. Despite the fact that Pakistan did not become an independent state until at least fifty years after the film is set. That, and the fact that the merest bop on the head causes geysers of blood so high that if they were real the people who were being bopped would have such high blood pressure they would be dead of a stroke already anyway, should make the average exploitation fan feel right at home, as should the plot.
Pretty Meiko Kaji plays Yuki Kashima, the ‘Lady Snowblood’ of the title. Born in prison in 1874, her mother’s dying wish is that her daughter should mete out vengeance on the three villains who raped her and killed her husband and son. Yuki trains with a priest to learn the art of swordplay and then sets out on her vendetta, cutting down anyone who gets in her way. The superbly orchestrated finale takes place at a masquerade ball amidst a welter of blood and blunted blades. As exploitation movies go, Lady Snowblood is a very fine film indeed, and its influence can be felt in subsequent female vigilante films such as Abel Ferrara’s Ms.45 and, most notably, Quentin Tarentino’s Kill Bill.
Like all the best exploitation films, Lady Snowblood was made for very little money and was such a success that a sequel was inevitable. Also running true to the rules of this kind of cinema, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974) isn’t very good. Despite the return of Meiko Kaji, and probably more deaths before the credits than any film of the time, the film quickly becomes mired in a political plot that’s long on talk and slow on action. Lady Snowblood herself is either in prison, in service (as a maid) or wounded for much of the film, and when she does finally get to do something the action sequences feel tired and poorly edited. The sequel is probably best avoided, except by completists.
Full marks are due to Arrow Films, who have scored again by releasing both Lady Snowblood films on a single disc in gorgeous high definition widescreen transfers that on BluRay look the best they probably ever will. There aren’t many extras, unless you count the sequel as being one (which it is, really) but there are some trailers and an interview, and the BluRay comes in an attractive steel-book package with a complimentary booklet.
It’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino claims Lady Snowblood to be an influence on his Kill Bill films. Just how much of an influence it’s probably best if you decide for yourself, as there are an awful lot of similarities between the original and Tarentino’s picture. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Arrow Films, fans now have the opportunity to discover it for themselves.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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