I love a good samurai hack and slasher. And so too it seems does Quentin Tarantino, being that his tale of brutal and bloody revenge – Kill Bill – was influenced heavily by this cult classic from 1973, Lady Snowblood.
Even just reading the story outline you will see parallels, as Lady Snowblood opens in a prison where Yuki (played by the viciously beautiful vision that is Meiko Kaji) is literally born for vengeance, as an instrument through which her mother can gain revenge on the gang of four who killed her husband and child and raped and abused her.
After training in sword fighting and the martial arts Lady Snowblood sets off on her trail of bloody retribution, determined not to stop slicing her way across the country ’til the people who wronged her mother are dead.
Much like the excellent Zatoichi series of the sixties and seventies and the amazing Lone Wolf and Cub movies (reedited and released in the UK as Shogun Assassin – which turns up on a TV in Kill Bill Part 2) Lady Snowblood is packed with samurais, sword fights and squirting streams of bright red blood.
It is cheesy at times but that’s also part of its charm. There’s a very serious streak at the center of the movie, detailing a nasty violent world where human life is worthless.
Like the Lone Wolf series the film also has a great storyline. It has a crazy cut about structure which sees it jumping from the present day to the past via voiceovers, manga drawings and still black and white photos. This is not only another obvious influence on Tarantino but also makes the movie more inventive and interesting as a whole.
The character of Lady Snowblood is in many ways made mythical, not only through her skills at killing but with people calling her a child of the netherworld, only on this earth for the purpose of revenge.
This depressing and ultimately unsatisfying existence is shown through Meiko Kaji’s calm, minimalistic yet extremely evocative portrayal with her cold almost mask like face showing only flashes of the pain and despair she feels inside.
This release courtesy of the brilliant Arrow Films comes packed with extras including exclusive interview with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, a collector’s booklet illustrated with original stills and even better, the sequel, Lady Snowblood: Love Song Of Vengeance which ups the body count considerably from the first film. That’s two gory samurai epics for the price of one, who can ask for anything more?
A great movie which has been given a wonderful re-release thanks to Arrow, Lady Snowblood utterly deserves not only its cult status, but the opportunity to be seen by a much wider audience. They will no doubt never be able to watch Kill Bill the same way again without seeing all the similarities.