LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973)
Twenty years ago, The husband of Yuki's mother was slain by four swindlers, who had taken up residence in a small village with plans of siphoning the peasants dry. Her mother became nothing more than property, and swore vengeance on the four who had destroyed her life. Under the guise of prostitution, she eventually became pregnant, with the sole purpose of having the child she bears set forth to claim revenge for her family. When Yuki's mother dies giving birth, Yuki is passed on to a local priest, who trains her to become an assassin and fulfill her destiny.
As a grown woman, Yuki begins her travels through the land, hunting down information that will guide her to the men and woman who destroyed her family. She finds help in the leader of a beggar's clan, who sets her on her way towards the vengeance she has tasted on her lips her entire life. When a curious journalist uncovers Yukis agenda, he begins to write the tale of Lady Snowblood, in a newspaper. These stories catch the attention of Yuki's targets, and sets the final stage for her carnage to be unleashed.
Based on manga by Kazuo Koike, who also created the Lone Wolf And Cub series, the spirit of the samurai flows through every shot of the film, which is perfectly and painstakingly framed. Metaphors and direct commentary on Japans change at the time the film takes place are addressed with the same attention as Yuki's personal story, as Western influence seeps into the isolated Japanese culture. Yuki, who is dubbed a "child of the netherworld" by the priest, is wonderfully played by Meiko Kaji and reflects that statement in her performance. The many close-ups of her eyes throughout the film are like pools of water without a bottom, where only the task before her has any chance of survival, though humanity tries desperately to cling on. She captures the essence of walking death perfectly, shroud completely in white (Japan's color of death), until it is stained red by the arterial sprays of her foes. It is this rich, unnatural and vibrant red, which helps to push the action scenes to the next level, and will have fans of gory swordplay cheering for more. The story is not without a moral message though, as Yuki's cry of an "eye for an eye" can only go so far before she must face vengeance herself.
Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL has recently been both praised for sourcing, as well as criticized for stealing, from LADY SNOWBLOOD. Though the film stands completely on its own merits and should be lauded for its strong female lead, one must wonder if such present day attention would have been given to it had Tarantino not dived into his old VHS collection for script inspiration. If film viewers are able to discover LADY SNOWBLOOD for the first time as a result of his homage to Eastern cinema, then all is well in the eyes of the movie gods.