Apparently Kazuo Koike’s manga is one of those edge cases where a creator’s manga adapts to the screen better in live-action than in animation. Koike’s anime track record includes the infamous Mad Bull 34 and Crying Freeman, while his live action adaptations include such classics as Lone Wolf & Cub, and the film I’m reviewing today – Lady Snowblood.
Lady Snowblood follows the title character (actual name Yuki Kashira – played by Meiko Kaji), who was born in a woman’s prison. Her mother’s husband was murdered, their son kidnapped, ahd she was raped repeatedly by three of her husband’s killers (the fourth was a woman who did not take part).
After killing one of the three men, she was arrested and imprisoned for life for the murder. This lead to her having sex with the guards in order to conceive a child to carry on her quest for vengeance – that child being Yuki (due to her being born when there was a snowstorm outside).
The film basically proceeds through Snowblood, with some assistance from some supporting characters, hunting down and killing the remaining three people on her mother’s murder list. The story is moderately episodic from there, as the general chunks of the story end up being mostly linked by a few supporting characters, and the title character’s quest for vengence.
Meiko Kaji, Atlas-like, bears the weight of the film on her shoulders. She has the most screen time than any of the other members of the film’s cast and she is the focus of all of the film’s action scenes. Yuki isn’t accomplishing this task alone, but the supporting cast barely has any screen time, having occasional bits here and there in the film, but no character development to speak of, with maybe one exception.
By comparison, Meiko not only gets across well that Lady Snowblood is a woman not to be crossed, but also gives her an emotional depth beyond being a stone-cold killer. For example, the first of the targets left on her list, when she finds him, has since repented, had a daughter, and has distanced himself from that part of this life. This doesn’t excuse his actions or mean he should be forgiven, but because of this and because his daughter is ignorant of her father’s past, we see Yuki have to pump herself up for the kill, in ways we didn’t in the kill she did before this. Indeed, Yuki’s pre-murder catchphrase “An eye for an eye” is only used in circumstances where she has to psychologically push herself to finish the job.
The action of the film itself is brutal and bloody, but also is very campy. The blood spray is of the paint out of a high-pressure hose variety you’d expect from something out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and you get dummy limbs lopped off with it. On the other hand, the fight choreography is on par with the Zatoichi films, and all of that combined makes for very engrossing action sequences.
In all, Lady Snowblood is one of those live-action manga adaptations that everyone likes to forget actually exists when talking about live action adaptations of manga, and I’d say it’s definitely worth picking up.
Currently, Lady Snowblood has received a release from the Criterion Collection and is available through Amazon.com on Blu-Ray and digitally. Buying anything through that link helps to support the site.
You can also watch the Lady Snowblood on the Criterion Channel streaming service.
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