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There has been a lot of buzz about Lady Snowblood since Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill was released. A direct influence on Tarantino's movie, (Tarantino even used the song Shuran No Hano (The Flower of Carnage) in his movie,) Lady Snowblood is the violent, yet compelling story of a woman's search for revenge for a deed committed before she was even born.
Yuki was born for revenge. Conceived and delivered in prison by a mother who was sentenced to life, Yuki is charged by her mother to seek revenge on the people who ruined her life. Years ago Yuki's mother, her husband, and young son were traveling to a new town when bandits attacked them. The villains killed the son and father, and the woman was raped for days. Yuki's mother was able to track one of the bandits down and killed him, but was caught and put in jail. There she slept with as many men as she could in order to conceive a weapon of vengeance.
Taken from the prison when her mother dies soon after she is born, Yuki is given to a priest who puts her through a very harsh course of training for twenty years. He declares that she is from the netherworld, and that she must purge all emotions except revenge. Her training complete, armed only with a sword and the names of the three bandits who still live, Lady Snowblood sets out to fulfill her destiny.
This move is more than your average hack-and-slash samurai film. Told in non-linear style, the film centers more on Yuki's emotions than swordplay, and has an emphasis on style, while not forgoing the plot. This movie has a similar feel to the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. Snowblood was originally a manga comic that was co-created by Kazou Koike, who also co-created Lone Wolf and Cub, so the comparison is natural. But Lady Snowblood isn't just an imitation of Koike's more famous work; it is a film that stands by itself.
The cinematography is wonderful. There are many beautiful shots scattered throughout the film. Yuki dressed in bright white splattered with red blood, the squalid prison where Yuki is born surrounded by fields of white snow, and the montage consisting of panels from the manga are all interesting visuals that rise this move above the standard 'swordsman out for revenge' movie. There are a lot of stark contrasts in this film too. The heroine often looks out of place among the squalor of the ancient cities, and her physical beauty is the opposite of the carnage that she unleashes on her enemies.
Although this is a beautiful movie in many ways, the picture is still firmly rooted in the samurai films of the time. This was made for mass consumption after all. There are a lot of arterial sprays when Lady Snowblood attacks, and she is able to cleave through limbs, necks, and even a torso, with the ease of a laser slicing through warm butter. Her impenetrable stare and unshakable confidence, along with the fair amount of action and revenge plot, firmly label this picture as a swordplay drama. But it is also more than that. Lady Snowbird is able to raise above most of the films in that genre and become a visually attractive and stylistically interesting movie.
There is a two channel audio track with optional English subtitles. One thing that Animeigo does that I wish more DVD publishers would do is have multicolored subtitles. When more than one person is speaking, each one's dialog has a different color, so it is easy to tell who is saying which lines.
The audio quality is good. The dialog is clear and there is no hiss or distortion present in the soundtrack. The movie does not have a lot of dynamic audio effects, so your system won't get a work out, but the soundtrack fits the movie well.
The widescreen anamorphically enhanced is excellent. The first thing that you notice about the transfer are the bright and vivid colors. The green grass, the white kimonos, and the deep blue ocean all are brilliantly colored. The skin tones are accurate, and there is very good definition. Digital artifacts are practically nonexistent. This is a gorgeous looking transfer.
This DVD features 16 pages of program notes (also reproduced on an index card-like insert included with the DVD) that explain the historical setting, some cultural references and notes on the translation. Animeigo also offers Quentin Tarantino a job near the end. The notes are very interesting and helpful, especially if you have little knowledge of Japanese history and the Meiji reformation.
There are also trailers for other movies in Animeigo's Samurai Cinema line of DVDs.
In the program notes it is mentioned that Animeigo helped Quentin Tarantino obtain the rights for the song "Shuran No Hano" that he used in Kill Bill Vol. 1. Since the company has some contact with him, I would have really liked to see an interview where Tarantino talked about how Lady Snowblood influenced him and his latest production. Alas, there isn't anything like that included on the disc.
Fans of Lone Wolf and Cub and Zatiochi should be sure to check this film out. It ranks up there with the best of those two series. For people uninitiated to the swordplay genre, this film would be an excellent introduction. If you enjoyed Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, this is film should go on the top of your list of movies you need to see.
In addition to Lady Snowblood being a very good film, Animeigo's transfer is outstanding. The colors and images are dynamic and leap off the screen. They have done an excellent job on this DVD, even if the extras are a bit skimpy. Highly Recommended.