The ultimate story of revenge, Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime) laid the groundwork for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and proved to be the inspiration for several others. It is a blood-spattered and beautiful picture, directed by Toshiya Fujita with all sorts of fierce, blood-spurting glee. While many would argue and perhaps complain that this gem of a samurai exploitation flick is only getting attention because of Tarantino’s homage/rip-off, any awareness of Fujita’s little blood-fest is good news in my book.
Thematically, Lady Snowblood fits comfortably in the exploitation genre. It is a film about social change and victimhood as the characters react to incoming Western philosophies and new forms of rule. Like many exploitation films, Lady Snowblood uses violence and graphic content to draw notice to its central theme. Unavoidably, the graphic violence overshadows the theme and the blood-and-guts take over in full force.
The story is told through flashbacks and cutaways, adding a disjointed sense of reality to the plot. Meiko Kaji is the attractive Yuki Kashima, whose entire life is dedicated to retribution after the vicious murder of her father and sadistic rape of her mother. Yuki is born in a woman’s prison to her mother, Sayo (Miyoko Akaza). Sayo dies from childbirth but is able to tell her cellmates that Yuki is to be raised for the purpose of retaliation. Six years later, one of Sayo’s cellmates takes young Yuki to a priest, Dōkai (Kō Nishimura), for training.
After her training, Yuki hits the path of revenge to track down those who wronged her parents. We are shown, graphic novel-style, who Yuki is looking for: Takemura Banzō (Noboru Nakaya), Kitahama Okono (Sanae Nakahara), Shokei Tokuichi (Takeo Chii), and Tsukamoto Gishirō (Eiji Okada). Stripped of emotion, sadness, and anger, Yuki’s quest for vengeance takes hold of her entire life. It is all she is able to do, it is her birthright, it is her divine purpose. As a “child of the netherworld,” she tracks her prey and dispatches of them in magnificent, gruesome fashion as only she can.