DVD Pick: Lady Snowblood

Directed by Toshiya Fujita. December 1973, Japan. Unrated: 97 min.

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 10/2/2008)

You know that old gripe some people have about Quentin Tarantino and how he borrows too much from the directors he admires? Whether or not that’s true is the subject of another article, but one piece of evidence naysayers often use is the similarity between Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Lady Snowblood. If you liked the artistic flourishes QT took in the fight scenes — bright red blood fountains, slow motion acrobatics, flashy camera work and eye-catching pictorialism — you will LOVE this chambara (sword fighting) film.

Set in the Meiji era of Japanese history, Lady Snowblood addresses class and gender tensions in the late 19th century. As we learn in a post-opening credits voice-over, shady deals among politicians, businessmen and mercenaries have become the norm while peasants are left to suffer. The plot positions Yuki (Meiko Kaji), a child born of prison rape, as the savior of the voiceless masses. “Everyone knew her flowery beauty,” the narrator says, “but not many knew that deep inside her seemingly gentle and pure heart burned a raging desire to hunt down her enemies.” Trained to kill from a young age, Yuki embarks on a blood-spattered journey to find every last gangster who disgraced her family and cut them into tiny pieces. Just like — you guessed it! — The Bride in Kill Bill.

If flaky friends or demanding professors have put you in a dark mood, I suggest chambara therapy. The treatment? Simply stop by That’s Rentertainment on half-off foreign films Monday, head toward the Japanese section and look for DVD covers with swords on them. In addition to Yojimbo (1961), Seven Samurai (1954) and all the Akira Kurosawa classics, I personally recommend the Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972-74). There’s nothing quite like watching a ronin draw sharp weapons from the same wooden cart he uses to transport his infant son.
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