It is unfortunate that Fugita Toshiya's Lady Snowblood might be remembered most only for it serving as the main source material for Quentin Tarantino's 2003 hit and Asian cinema tribute Kill Bill. I guess I should just be happy that it was remembered at all. Because without QT's extensive reference to Lady Snowblood, I might not have checked it out in the first place. So thanks Quentin. Well, kind of. I hesitate to display my appreciation more fully because Kill Bill was such a complete sampling that its almost a modern day retelling of the film. So honestly, I felt kind of cheated. But that's Kill Bill. This review is about Lady Snowblood. A film that simply blows Tarantino out of the water despite it all. Using a mixed up chronology before it was cool, Fugita Toshiya's film begins with a young woman encountering some men traveling on a snowy path. Unknown to them, she has another purpose other than getting from here to there. Soon, swords are drawn and much blood (entirely theirs) stains the ground on which they lay. The woman named Yuki moves on. We learn that her father, a school teacher, was brutally murdered and that her mother was beaten, raped, and imprisoned. From her dying mother's lips on the day she was born, she learns that she was born for the express purpose of revenge. Think about that for a minute. Her mother had sex with every creep and prison guard in order get pregnant and spawn an instrument of death and revenge. So now Yuki's quest is to kill the four villains, three men and a woman, who destroyed her parents even though she never actually knew her them.
It is chillingly explained by her mother that "karma can stain the unborn". As you might expect, this is not an uplifting film. The experience is harrowing and hard, but you are pulled along with her because of her incredible sense of duty and the horrible acts perpetrated. This is clearly "eye for an eye" stuff. No credit given for good behavior. Yuki is set to kill whether or not life has rewarded or punished after the crime. There are no rollicking action sequences here to be rewound and watched again. There is, however, plenty of swords and gore, filmed in the blunt, straight forward style of something absolutely inevitable. The violence here still shocks as it must have in 1973 at the time of its release. If there was a part that I didn't like about Lady Snowblood, I would say that the narrative periodically falls into a history lesson format accompanying the introduction of each of the four chapters that the film is split into. But even those sequences are well made, employing almost a comic strip feel and presentation. And yea, that is another element Tarantino included in Kill Bill.