Thursday, January 7, 2016

Lady Snowblood

Knowing that Quentin Tarantino was inspired to create the KILL BILL movies by 1973's LADY SNOWBLOOD, I couldn't help but watch the film through (what I imagined to be) his eyes as an enthusiastic video store clerk sometime in the '80s.  Surely he had devoured the plethora of martial arts fodder, much of it Grade Z, available on VHS back in the day.  But perhaps seeing a female in this setting striking out on the bloody trail of vengeance usually reserved for the other sex triggered the germ of an idea, should he ever get the opportunity to make movies of his own.

Yuki is a young woman whose mission, and possibly fate, was sealed before she was even born.  Her mother watched her husband and child slaughtered right in front of her by a quartet of criminals.  Sayo, the mother, is raped and indentured to one of the four for a time before eventually slashing him with a knife.  Later, while in prison, Sayo gives herself over to prison guards, hoping to conceive a child who will be bred to avenge her family.

LADY SNOWBLOOD, recently remastered by the folks at Criterion, announces its four chapters with onscreen titles, just like Quentin does.  There are flashbacks of young Yuki's training with a stern but loving priest who subjects her to exercises like rolling down hills in barrels and endless sword drills.  To breed a killer, an asura, but as we hear in voice over, someone who still has a heart.  Yuki will, with the help of her old mentor and later, a writer who decides to tell her story, hunt down the assailants, one of which is a woman.

Norio Asada adapts the Lady Snowblood manga into a twisty, downbeat tale that mimics the character of the Buddhist god Asura - low ranking deities caught in an endless cycle of violence and conflict.  Revenge stories often satisfy audience's blood lust with mere actions, rarely pausing to consider the corrosion of soul of the avenger.  Yuki is more complex than that, able to grimly carry out her task but seems to possess a perspective on it all.  Thankfully, director Toshiya Jujita does not overdo this notion with verbose discussions or excessively rendered inner thoughts.  Having seen many such films, I expect the hero(ine) to reach the last hacked corpse with a sense of disappointment and confusion, a sudden lack of purpose after the directive has been carried out.   LADY SNOWBLOOD has lots of surprises up its sleeve (even a Scooby Doo type moment!), turning that expected cliched moment into something different.

So as QT watched this arterial spray epic and its 1974 sequel, I can imagine his black little heart racing with ideas as to how to steal/pay homage to yet another grim bit of '70s cinema.  With every bloody frame I thought of the future auteur not only out of deja vu (the guy unapologetically lifts entire scenes), but how a devotee's creative spirit can be fired.

Don't let your love for the KILL BILL films keep you away from LADY SNOWBLOOD, a solidly entertaining and even at times meditative journey down a familiar path that reveals more than a few side roads.

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