Welcome to this week’s edition of FilmStruck Friday! Every Friday here on TMP, with the exception of the first Friday of the month (which is reserved for “Favorite things about…”), we’ll be taking a look at a film available through the TCM and Criterion Collection streaming service. Today’s film comes from 1973 – Shurayukihime, known in English as Lady Snowblood. Happy viewing!
Sayo (Miyoko Akaza) is in prison for killing a man. Her husband and son are dead, and her crime was in retaliation. She has nothing… except the baby girl she’s given birth to in prison. She names the girl Yuki, and knowing that the baby will be allowed to leave the prison, bestows upon her a mission of revenge.
Sayo dies shortly after giving birth, leaving young Yuki (Mayumi Maemura) to be raised by a man who trains her to become a powerful assassin. By the time she reaches the age of twenty, Yuki (now played by Meiko Kaji) is very skillful with a sword, and ready to carry out her mother’s revenge plot.
Shurayukihime, known in English as Lady Snowblood, was directed by Toshiya Fujita. The film is based on a popular manga series of the same name, and served as an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
I’ve never been too interested in Quentin Tarantino’s films, which I’m sure makes me a blasphemer in some circles of film internet, but in my defense, most of the stuff I watch came out long before I was born. Stylishly violent films from the ’90s and 2000s aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse. I’ve only seen clips of Kill Bill, and I’d never actually heard of Lady Snowblood until running across it on FilmStruck, which I’m kicking myself for now that I’ve seen it!
The film is incredibly bloody but incredibly beautiful. Just four minutes in, I thought to myself, “This has got to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing films I’ve ever seen.” The locations, costumes, and cinematography are just stunning.
“Lady Snowblood” herself, Yuki, is a total badass. She walks around with a stoic sense of composure, taking down her enemies with an umbrella-hidden sword.
“Forgiveness” doesn’t seem to be a term that exists in the personal dictionary of Lady Snowblood, but the viewer sympathizes with her despite her violence. The film doesn’t seem to paint Yuki as either a demon or a victor. What happened to her family was awful, and she doesn’t just go around killing needlessly.
“An eye for an eye!,” Yuki proclaims before each death. Avenging her mother doesn’t fill her with pride. She doesn’t celebrate each kill. To her, the killings are a necessity, not a rationalized choice. It’s a fascinating tale of revenge and inherited violence.
“She walks the path dividing life and death, having long ago dried her tears.”
Amidst the intriguing revenge story, there are touches of camp, with blood brighter than ketchup and lots of wide-eyed close-ups. This is probably why the gore didn’t bother me as much as it usually would. (I’m typically an eye-covering baby when it comes to this stuff.) Still, several scenes of violence did leave me jaw-dropped!
Meiko Kaji’s performance as the title character is strong and unsettling, one of the film’s strongest assets along with its aesthetics. Younger Yuki, portrayed by Mayumi Maemura, is shown training to become a powerful assassin. By the time the role is taken over by Kaji, Yuki has become an almost superhuman warrior, and the actress does a fantastic job in the role.
Another positive to the film, small but worth noting — I enjoyed the use of narration and the “chapter” structure, which adds context and clarity to all of the body-chopping.
Shurayukihime is a beautifully crafted film with a gripping story to tell, and a few shocking twists throughout. It was an instant favorite for me. Highly recommended!