Lady Snowblood

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Director Toshiya Fujita re-teamed with actress Meiko Kaji for the highly influential Lady Snowblood (1973). The duo had collaborated previously on Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (1970) and Alleycat Rock: Crazy Riders ’71 (1971). While some of the feminist themes of these earlier pictures are reprised in Lady Snowblood there is little to connect the two films. The production company Toho viewed Lady Snowblood as a means to cash-in on Meiko Kaji’s rising popularity in the wake of her Female Prisoner Scorpion films and assigned the commercially viable Fujita to direct.

Fujita wholly embraces the style of the manga by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura, opting for far more graphic compositions rather than the sensuous psycedelia of his earlier films. The images in Lady Snowblood, photographed by Masaki Tamura, are staggeringly beautiful; recalling Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge (1963) in the use of color and sets. There’s an unreality to Lady Snowblood that evokes a ghost story, perhaps equating the “asuna” with the supernatural.

Meiko Kaji’s role as the titular spirit of vengeance is not dissimilar to her characters in the underrated Blind Woman’s Curse (1970) and the infamous Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (1972). The difference between Lady Snowblood and these other revenge narratives is in the motivation of the main character. While the vendetta at the heart of Lady Snowblood is indisputably personal for the protagonist, it has wider social implications. Lady Snowblood isn’t just out to avenge her mother and father, but an entire village that was swindled out of thousands of yen in 1873. Lady Snowblood is a vessel for a ruthless kind of social justice that the character Matsu wouldn’t become until Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973).

When Quentin Tarantino did his pseudo re-make of Lady Snowblood with his Kill Bill films he dispensed with this social justice angle. The anti-capitalist, anti-Western culture, and feminist ideologies of Lady Snowblood proved incompatible with Tarantino’s agenda. The Kill Bill films may have granted Lady Snowblood a second life and critical credibility beyond that of the video store guru but Tarantino fundamentally misunderstood what made Lady Snowblood a genre masterpiece. All Tarantino is capable of is importing Fujita’s bold images into a post-modern complex designed to pay homage to the whole of Japanese cinema, essentially gentrifying a rich culture heritage for the sake of his own ego.