After seeing the sequel to LADY SNOWBLOOD a year ago, I finally stumbled upon a fantastic video store that carries just about every obscure title known to man (San Francisco's "Le Video") - including an entire wall full of Samurai goodness. My first picks were the long sought after LADY SNOWBLOOD and the classic ZATOICHI MEETS YOJIMBO.Although more common these days with films like Princess Blade, Azumi, and Kill Bill, Samurai-themed action movies with female protagonists were not so common back in the sixties and seventies when Chambara flicks were at their peak. For that reason alone, Lady Snowblood is a noteworthy volume in the canon of chop-sake' classics. Though she strides about in a Kimono and parasol, looking as docile as your average geisha, Shuriyikihime (or just "Yuki" for short) is a killing machine born and bred with the sole purpose of revenge. And although her only weapon is a narrow-bladed short sword, she proves that it's not the size that matters, but how you use it.
Yuki's origin is both sad and compelling. 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. Her mother had already taken revenge on one of the perpetrators (the reason she ended up in prison). Now Yuki must seek out three others in order to fulfill the blood oath of the family she never knew. She is trained as a little girl in the art of combat by a buddhist monk, blossoming into a stunning young woman whose beauty belies her cold-bloodedness.
As expected from movies of this period, the film is replete with plenty of hacking, slashing, and brightly-colored arterial spray. Meiko Kaji is a heartstopping beauty with big, expressive eyes that are suitably haunted-looking for the character she portrays. Although there are moments of silliness and unintentional campiness (but then, the story was based on a Japanese comic book, after all), Yuki is more than a two-dimensional walking cuisinart. At times she must kill even when compassion would constrain her not to, and we feel her frustration as she is cheated out of her revenge again and again until she finally comes face to face with the master villain and fulfills her mother's oath.KILL BILL fans will recognize many flourishes from LADY SNOWBLOOD, including a few snippets of almost identical dialogue, and the very familiar opening theme music which also makes an appearance after the climactic Uma-Lucy showdown in Tarantino's film. As far as kick-ass sword-wielding female protagonists go, the Q-man couldn't have picked a better inspiration.