Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (Shuriyuki Hime: Urami Renga)

The original Lady Snowblood is, for my money, one of the greatest revenge movies ever made, and also one of my favorite movies. If you are unfamiliar, it was one of Quentin Tarantino's primary inspirations for his Kill Bill movies. Major narrative elements, such as The Bride's "kill list" and the division of the story into novelistic chapters were lifted directly from Lady Snowblood. He even copied specific shots from it and included the end credits song on the soundtrack. I was aware that there was a sequel, but for some reason, it took me about 8 years before I finally got around to watching it.

The first film follows Lady Snowblood (in Japanese, Shuriyuki Hime), born in prison and spirited away to be raised as an instrument of vengeance, to be unleashed upon the criminals who murdered her mother's family. It's a complicated story, and I won't go into the details, but it ends with a whole lot of blood, a large amount of it Lady Snowblood's own. In fact, were there not a sequel, one would assume that she was dead.

At the start of the second film, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance, Shuriyuki Hime is alive and kicking, and it's never really explained how. I guess we can just assume she's a fighter. With her vengeance served and no purpose remaining in her life, Lady Snowblood spends her time running from the authorities, indiscriminately killing any who attempts to take her in. This is demonstrated in a single shot scene where she mows down one after another without displaying any emotion on her face.

Finally overwhelmed, she gives up and turns herself in, and is promptly sentenced to death. She gets a stay of execution when she gets kidnapped by a government official and recruited to go undercover as a servant in order to steal a document and assassinate a known anarchist. Things go further awry when she becomes sympathetic to the anarchist's cause and turns the tables on the corrupt government official and his cronies. And of course, there's lots and lots of blood. Bright red, thick blood, unrealistically and gloriously spraying from bodies like fountains. Limbs go flying, eyes get stabbed out, there's a black plague outbreak, what more could you ask for?

The first movie was a revenge story set upon a political backdrop. This time around, the politics of the period in Japan (early 1900's) are in the forefront. It's an interesting story, and well executed (pun intended HAHA), but nowhere near as visceral and personal as the simple "I need to kill the people on this list" premise of the first one. Both films were directed by Toshiya Fujita, and both are dark, stylized, and smartly plotted.

Lady Snowblood is played by Meiko Kaji, star of the Stray Cat Rock series. She's tough, complicated, a total badass, and way sexy. If the first film was about her vengeance, and how a lifetime's pursuit of it leaves her empty and without identity, the sequel is about her finding something outside of herself to fight for and be willing to die for.

While not as great as the first film, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance is still worth looking into if you're a fan. I would recommend watching the first Lady Snowblood and deciding from there if you want more.

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