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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Blind Picks from Netflix: Lady Snowblood (1973)

I was overjoyed with my recent random pick from Netflix: Toshiya Fujita’s 1973 film Lady Snowblood. Tarantino borrowed music, costumes and fight scenes from Lady Snowblood for his film Kill Bill. He could not have drawn from a better source—Lady Snowblood is an innovative and progressive film far ahead of its time. As a bonus, i’s also a lot of fun to watch.

Yuki is a killing machine born and raised with the sole purpose of bloody revenge (aren't they all?). Early in the film, we see that she was born in prison to a woman serving a life sentence for murder. Her dying mother makes a vow that Yuki will avenge the murders of her father and older brother, who died before she was born. Yuki must kill the three men who are responsible.

The film takes place at the end of the Meiji restoration, a period that saw a shift of power from Shogunate to Emperor and the quick rise of Japan as modern nation. The Meiji Restoration was the catalyst towards industrialization in Japan that led to the rise of the island nation as a military power by 1905, under the slogan of "National Wealth and Military Strength" The military was reformed and the samurais phased out. There were some who did not take kindly to this assertion of government power. In Lady Snowblood, Yuki’s parents are assaulted by four villagers who mistake the husband for an undesirable government official. They stab him and his son and rape his wife. The wife, who survives, goes on to kill one of the men who assaulted them. It is this crime that lands her in jail, where she gives birth to Yuki, the merciless killing machine. The rest, as they say, is all icing and arterial spray.

Lady Snowblood uses a non-linear narrative, with a careful, effective use of flashback and voice-over that make it seem very modern. It is also a technically beautiful film. The opening fight sequence, in particular, is quite breathtaking. As Yuki, Meiko Kaji is beautiful and believable as the titular assassin. The gore is plentiful but never in poor taste. And the dialogue! I want a T-shirt that says “Blizzard from the Netherworld,” on it.


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