Best to get it out of the way early – 1973′s Lady Snowblood is the film that Quentin Tarantino used as the main inspiration for his Kill Bill series from a decade ago. And when Tarantino uses something as an inspiration that usually means he ‘borrows’ from his sources quite liberally, which is a good thing in this case because if he hadn’t made Kill Bill the way he did then there’s a good chance that Lady Snowblood might not be getting the praise and recognition that it gets today. That said, this new Blu-ray package from Arrow Films is sure to bring in a lot of new fans, as not only does it contain the first Blu-ray release of Lady Snowblood anywhere but it also includes the sequel Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance and a host of extras making this something of a definitive edition for collectors.
The plot is quite simple, involving a young lady named Yuki (Meiko Kaji) who is seeking vengeance for the rape of her mother and the murder of her mother’s husband and son. It turns out that Yuki’s mother Sayo (Miyoko Akaza) was imprisoned for the murder of one of the attackers and duly set about getting herself pregnant by one of the prison guards so she could raise the child as a weapon of vengeance. Sayo dies shortly after the birth and her daughter Yuki is raised by the other inmates and is taught how to fight with a sword by a priest called Dōkai (Kō Nishimura).
At the age of twenty Yuki starts finding those responsible for her mother’s suffering and so begins her journey of violence and revenge, leaving a trail of bloody corpses in her wake. But that is just the first film, as in Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance Yuki is saved from the hangman’s noose by the head of the secret police who offers Yuki a chance at redemption by forcing her to infiltrate a group of anarchists in order to retrieve a document. As you would expect the deal isn’t as straightforward as it seems and Yuki must decide where her loyalties lie.
Anyone familiar with the likes of Shogun Assassin or the Female Scorpion films will know what to expect here – fantastically choreographed samurai sword fighting and geysers of blood spraying everywhere – but Lady Snowblood has a little more going on than what those films, or even the Kill Bill films, would have you believe. The character of Yuki is vastly different to your typical ‘woman scorned’ assassin as she comes across as defiantly feminine. That may sound a bit odd but even when she is slicing and dicing limbs left, right and centre there is an air of grace about her actions that differenciate from the generic ‘woman out for revenge’ character.
Both films are competently directed and look fantastic in their new HD format, although like a lot of Asian cinema what seems like a straightforward plot does twist and turn into something else before it gets to where it needs to be, and the 90-odd minute running times do feel a little longer, particularly in the second film which is a little more complex than a straight-up vengeance film. But despite the lapses in pacing the films do offer up some brilliantly technicoloured gore that is made all the more wonderful by the fact that this is genuine 70s exploitation/grindhouse and not just a loving homage.
Available as a Limited Edition Steelbook or 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Set the package comes with a handful of extras including an interview with Japanese cinema aficiano Jasper Sharp, the original trailers for both fims and a collector’s booklet written by film critic Tom Mes, plus the Arrow Films trademark reversible sleeve on the Dual Format Set. So whether you’re looking to upgrade your existing DVD version or are new to Asian cinema and looking to get started collecting then this is a fantastic set to get your hands on. Wonder if Quentin’s got one yet…?