Lady Snowblood (1973)

Meiko Kaji is truly the goddess of women’s revenge films. Where Christina Lindberg showed promise and poise as she destroyed everyone in her path in They Call Her One Eye, Meiko showed her power in all of the Female Prisoner Scorpion films and then two Lady Snowblood films. In fact, to get his cast ready for what Kill BIll was all about, supposedly Quentin Tarantino made them watch these films.

You can see the inspiration for those two films directly in the way that Lady Snowblood hops time and space, showing you the story of its heroine’s life in a nonlinear fashion.

A woman named Sayo has lost everything. Her husband and son were murdered and then the convicts assaulted her. After stabbing one of them to death, she was imprisoned for life. Unable to escape to get the vengeance that she claims it would take seven lifetimes to fulfill, she seduces multiple prison guards, with her child born in prison and trained for a life of revenge. She is a child of the netherworld and as such, must be trained for a violent life.

Now named Yuki for the snow in which she was born, the young warrior trains under the warrior priest Dokai to become a living instrument of her mother’s hatred.

Yuki learns the names of the three men she must find and goes after them one by one. She has no remorse, even after learning that one of them, Takemura Banzo, saw his life fall apart after what he did to her mother. He’s a drunk, a cheater at gambling and his daughter has turned to selling herself. Yuki gets him pardoned at the gambling den and then reveals her identity to him on a beach before killing him.

She’s also been led to believe that her final target, Tsukamoto Gishiro, had died in a shipwreck just as she began looking for him. She becomes involved with a reporter named Ashio whose story draws out the man who personally murdered her father, Kitahama Okono.

Through all manner of twists and turns, we learn that Ashio’s father is really Gishiro, who had faked his death when he learned that Yuki was on his trail. She will stop at nothing to have her revenge, feelings and her life be damned.

While this movie is based on Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood manga, the role of Yukio was written specifically for Meiko Kaji. Both this film and its sequel were directed by Toshiya Fujita, who was also behind Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo and Street Cat Rock: Beat ’71.

There are literally geysers of blood in this movie, a dark rumination on revenge. It is near-poetic, an odyssey into the depths that pain can cut across multiple lives.

You can watch this on Shudder or get the Criterion set from Diabolik DVD.

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