Film Review: Lady Snowblood (1973)

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A conversation between Nick Alexander, Joanna Di Mattia and Scott Halligan

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Synopsis: Yuki’s (Meiko Kaji) family is nearly wiped out before she is born due to the machinations of a band of criminals. These criminals kidnap and rape her mother but leave her alive. Later her mother ends up in prison with only revenge to keep her alive. She creates an instrument for this revenge by purposefully getting pregnant. Though she dies in childbirth, she makes sure that the child will be raised as an assassin to kill the criminals who destroyed her family. Young Yuki never knows the love of a family but only killing and revenge, and sets forth on a bloody path to vengeance.

SCOTT: We all guessed which year or decade this was made in. Nick you and I both guessed the late 90s or early 2000s, but we were wrong.

NICK: We were. And it does make sense that Tarantino didn’t rip something off that was that recent.

SCOTT: Why did we think that?

NICK: I think it looked great…The quality of the copy was amazing…and…it just didn’t quite strike me as 70s. I think the violence, because it is in such vogue today, the excessiveness of it all, which is almost commonplace now.

JO: But it (Tarantino’s homage) came from somewhere, and where did it come from? It came from the 70s.

NICK: Yes, and the excesses of this genre in particular. But, you think about the Tarantino factor, and it is clearly more than just a homage, he’s blatantly ripped things off and one of the things is that really dynamic shot in sepia of the four heads of the bad guys that have raped and killed the family, basically. He has almost directly ripped that off for the four Viper whatever people in Kill Bill. The stuff with the sensei, that’s Carradine, blah blah blah.

JO: When I realised this was the film that had influenced Kill Bill so strongly, my expectation was that I would see a scene at some point that was similar to the scene in which Beatrix kills O-Ren Ishi out in the snow, because it is such a dynamic, beautiful scene and I felt very disappointed, that I didn’t get the original.

NICK: “Half Chinese, half Japanesey”

SCOTT: O-Ren Ishi is a lot like Lady Snowblood isn’t she?

JO: She is Lady Snowblood basically; she’s doing the same kind of thing, the revenge kill…Though Lady Snowblood is essentially not just a revenge fantasy, I think it’s a rape revenge fantasy. Because she’s a child born of rape – she doesn’t know which of those men was her father.

NICK: It’s implied that it’s the guy who is the father of the girl that eventually kills Lady Snowblood – they’re probably sisters. Isn’t it? That’s what I read into it.

JO: Yeah, actually I was waiting for a moment of the reveal of that.

SCOTT: It would have been a better film for it.

JO: It might have been.

NICK: That might be revealed in the sequel, I don’t know. I thought that explained why she’s so sympathetic to the girl.

SCOTT: Let’s talk about violence again, in the context of this film. There’s sexual violence as well, but there is a very similar amount of violence to Lone Wolf and Cub. And that is that, whenever there is a very dramatic moment, when someone’s death could be really profound, instead a fucking sprinkler of blood comes out! The way that it works is there is a moment of silence before someone gets stabbed, or slashed…

NICK: Yeah and the bigger the baddie the bigger the spray.

SCOTT: Yeah, there’s a tiny moment of silence and then you hear the sound: whooooshhh!

NICK: Yeah, a fucking geyser. They ultimate death in this film though is the guy, he looked a bit like Stellan Skarsgaard for me. The guy with the daughter who eventually gets her revenge.

JO: Remind me how he died?

NICK: Well, Lady Snowblood runs him through on the beach when he’s drunk. She’s already spared his life from the gamblers, so she can take revenge herself for her mum/family. He’s drowning in a sea of his own blood…

SCOTT: And then she chucks him off a cliff!

NICK: I know! Out of nowhere this 40-kilo girl dressed in these fine geisha clothes…

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JO: I love that she had the most beautiful kimonos on all the time.

NICK: Especially when she walks into that fucking town and everyone else is covered in dirt, she’s in beautiful white.

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JO: For me (the most violent scene is) that scene where she killed the woman and then just sliced her in half…

SCOTT: Well she didn’t kill her

JO: No she killed herself [by hanging from the rafters], thank you…but then sliced her [body] in half…Anyhow to me it looked like her eyes were moving round the room.

NICK: That was bad acting.

JO: Well I thought, its not over yet…

SCOTT: Yeah the director was like “I’m gonna tell you one more time. Keep your eyes in one spot, and don’t follow the key grip guy!”

JO/NICK: [Laughing]

NICK: With the logic of this film, I enjoyed that that bitch copped it and got cut in half.

JO: Oh, yeah, because a woman that allows that to happen [the rape and murder of Yuki’s family] is almost worse than a man.

NICK: And she took such pleasure in it!

JO: Yeah she was enjoying it too much.

NICK: She enjoyed the rapes, and the way she was dunking the reporter’s head in the water, like what a fucking bitch!

SCOTT: Yeah but she was dunking him for like one second and then letting him breathe, and I was thinking, “take this – now you’re wet!”

JO: I’m just constantly amazed at what a samurai sword can do. But Lady Snowblood’s was a fairly short one, a ladies sword. Is that what it was?

SCOTT: Yeah it was more like a long dagger.

NICK: Well there’s clips on youtube comparing a medieval European sword to a katana, and it’s amazing the damage a katana can do by comparison. So sharp, the way its slightly bowed, etc, it’s perfectly designed for…

JO: Slicing a human body, eviscerating.

NICK: Yeah…

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SCOTT: Hey remember the best line of the film, it was the evil woman who finally reveals herself, and says something like “I’ve done exactly what you thought I would do” as if it was like a masterstroke.

JO: I wanted to press rewind.

NICK: The whole crowd fucking wet themselves…Anyhow, let me pick out someone I felt sorry for in this film. And that was he big bad guy, the last bad guy…

SCOTT: James Joyce.

JO: Nice call.

NICK: Yeah…Well I actually felt sorry for his decoy because you don’t know its not the bad guy, she cuts off both his hands – I have to “hand” it to her that was kinda good.

JO/SCOTT: (Both laugh out of pity)

NICK: But the thing that was funny was that I noticed in the screening that the three of us laughed when they realise there is double glass and they smash it and you see the bad guy’s looking, and he sees them and runs off. How funny did it look?! This little goofy man.

SCOTT: It was hilarious.

NICK: I liked it – I thought it was like a cartoon.

JO: I didn’t think it was deliberate.

NICK: Another director might have used a jump cut or something. It was almost comical the way it was shot.

NICK: So, how steamy was that romance? Discuss.

SCOTT: I thought it was a total load of crap.

NICK: [gasping].

JO: It was a total fabrication because they were probably told, ‘let’s try and lighten this up a little bit and stick some kind of love story in’, and it was completely unbelievable. Also, no woman would love a man with hair like that.

NICK: The hair was great.

JO: It was like a mop. But quite blow waved. Everyone was laughing.

NICK: Yeah it (the romance) was so abbreviated and forced. And apart from one pretty much one scene on a boat, when they were both almost dying, it’s all implied.

JO: There was a lot of Vaseline on the lens during that scene, too.

NICK: Yeah I know, I thought I was watching Picnic at Hanging Rock. (in a girly voice) “Miranda!”

JO: It didn’t work, it was unnecessary and the kind of female heroine she is, that was not necessary to her journey at all really.

SCOTT: the reporter character, you could rip him out of the movie and not much would be lost…

NICK: Yeah….also I think the reporter guy was in there structurally because normally with a male protagonist he would have to rescue the beautiful woman, and here they have flipped that on its head for gender reasons.

JO: They didn’t have the language then to know how to do that.

NICK: Yeah, it was almost like a hunch that was played out.

SCOTT: Speaking of a child born of vengeance…

NICK: You?

JO: Tell us all about it, Scott.

SCOTT: You mentioned, Nick, in the review of Lone Wolf and Cub that there are themes of the underworld. That similarly here, Lady Snowblood is a demon of some kind, but she has human qualities like compassion. How much of that do you think there was in this film? Do you think she was a demon, or that was a little superficial?

NICK: It’s almost like a piece of cultural bravado for me. You know in these themes from Japanese culture, I thought it [the talk of Yuki becoming a demon] was her sensei’s way of convincing her to go on her mission.

SCOTT: And the mother said that as she was dying. There was a sense that the women around her were almost witches, and they were part of the curse on the baby. And then right at the end, she’d been stabbed, she’d been cut and maybe she’d even been shot, an she was just lying there in the snow, dying…

NICK: I think she copped a bullet. When she cries out, in death, is it because she realises that achieving vengeance wasn’t worth her entire life, and in a way she’s not lived. And it’s implied that there was a potential future life with this reporter, they seemed to have some connection, and is it a cry of pain that she’s achieved nothing, really?

JO: I think so. I think it was a sense of ‘what has this been worth?’ That realisation has come too late; it’s not satisfying.

SCOTT: And there’s also that sense of incompleteness because she only killed two of the four [people who wronged her family].

JO: It’s a highly ambiguous sound she makes, really.

NICK: You can take it how you want.

JO: She hasn’t achieved, strictly speaking, what it was she set out to achieve.

NICK: What about with the woman, do you consider that a revenge kill?

JO: Dissatisfying all round.

NICK: I was satisfied.

JO: (laughs)

NICK: But structurally, she should possibly have been the final baddie.

JO: Yeah, because she’s almost worse than what they are, from a female perspective.

NICK: The big baddie, James Joyce, etc, he’s almost a nobody. And she seems crueller, especially in the rape flashback, this woman is enjoying what is going on. She is not partaking but she is condoning it and seems to be orchestrating it all. Maybe they missed a trick, she could have been the brains behind the whole plan…

JO: And it would be interesting to try to understand what that motivation is to actually behave that way. But I don’t think films like that go into that sort of territory.

NICK: No.

SCOTT: When I say she missed out on killing two out of the four, I mean one, because it turned out that he wasn’t dead. Anyhow, on that topic, the first person that you see Lady Snowblood kill that opens the film, or its present day setting, where she ambushes this man riding [in a palanquin carried by his guards], snow is falling, it seems like its late at night, he wears an old man cap, and as she is killing him he begs to know who she is. And she says it right before he dies.

NICK: Yes it’s the pre-title sequence.

SCOTT: Yes. But who exactly this person is, I was a little confused about that. And you had a theory Nick about what that might be about.

NICK: Yeah, maybe she earns a living as an assassin. She has her own personal vendetta of these four people she wants to kill, but…

JO: I think it’s more about setting her up as a character. This is who she is as an adult, how she operates, she’s walking through the snow in her flip-flops, very dainty and elegant, then she pulls out this knife…

NICK: Well you think of women in the samurai genre before then, I’m guessing, you know, there’s nothing like that as far as I know. Especially in that culture, very patriarchal culture, etc.

JO: Well there is that woman in Yojimbo you know…

NICK: That evil bitch, the Lady Macbeth?

JO: That’s the one – she’s the one with the balls in that film.

NICK: Yeah, she is. But yeah, generically, it’s like imagine seeing a geisha come at you with a fucking sword! And it shows you how sharp a samurai sword is, because she hasn’t got the muscular power, etc to compare with these brutes that she takes on…

JO: But she’s got the skill.

NICK: She’s quicker, she’s nimble, she’s got the skill and it’s just such a sharp weapon. She cuts that woman in half with absolute ease.

SCOTT: It is special effects.

JO: (laughs)

NICK: It might not be real, but…

JO: I just can’t believe that you can cut somebody in half like that, without having to hack.

NICK: If you want we’ll get one of these Port Melbourne beggars and we’ll prove it.

SCOTT: (laughs, nervously).

3.5 blergs
3.5 blergs

 

 

 

 

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