Notable Cast: Meiko Kaji, Ko Nishimura, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Miyoko Akaza, Eiji Okada, Sanae Nakahara, Noboru Nakaya, Takeo Chii, Hitoshi Takagi, Akemi Negishi, Ko Nishimura
Occasionally, there are films that will grow with you over time. In many ways, a great film is one that strengthens with time and overcomes the bane of its own time context to reach a universal state. Lady Snowblood is one of these films that only gets better with time, in overall context and for me personally, which is something that not many films can say. There was always a knack for the Japanese cinema to produce these kinds of films including the likes of Lone Wolf and Cub, the Zatoichi franchise, and other iconic exploitation films of the yakuza genre, but Lady Snowblood might be one of the most interesting ones. On the surface, the film is often eclectic and abrasive – thanks to a leaping narrative and stylized approach – but with repeated viewings it opens up its many layers of detailing, symbolism, and intense off beat moments. This allows Lady Snowblood to only strengthen with time instead of collapse under its own contextual surroundings.
Lady Snowblood (Meiko Kaji) has spent the entirety of her life preparing for her birthright. To kill the four people responsible for the death of her father and the imprisonment of her mother who died in childbirth. Trained as an expert swordswoman, her biggest challenge is just finding the four criminals and she will need help in doing just that, but is it enough to accomplish such a daunting task?
From there, director Fujita applies a lot of great execution to the film to finish off the strong writing and thematic elements. As mentioned, Meiko Kaji and her iconic glare make for the perfect muse as the slighted woman whose will power is something to be feared, but the entirety of the cast is strong considering the limited time that they have on screen as it moves from one target to the next. The various villains are remarkably different and each one represents a nice new challenge (and lesson) for our heroine to approach. The biggest issue that arises in the film is the odd addition of a romantic subplot that seems a bit rushed over when Snowblood thinks her task has been accomplished and settles down with a writer who helped her in one of her previous expeditions. The idea is sound and the performances work for what is shown, but it felt like it needed another 15 minutes to really make the finale as impactful as it might have been when a few of the final twists are revealed. It’s not a huge issue, but one that could have added even more punch to an already punchy film.
For a film that was essentially a low budget affair, Lady Snowblood is the kind of inspired film making that not only rises above the context of its time, but it damn near hits a universal experience. It’s thoughtful and artful, but retains a lot of grindhouse-esque aspects to its violence and quirks that allow it to be viciously entertaining at the same time. The combination of director Fujita and Kaji kicks the film into next echelon territory and when they are working with a script that’s both subtle and grand, it makes for an unforgettable film experience.